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Pioneer Athletic Conference 2019 Preview and Team-by-Team Breakdowns

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Upper Merion Vikings

Upper Merion’s Anthony Swenda returns after rushing for 321 yards and five touchdowns in 2018. (Gene Walsh- File Photo)

Taste of success has Upper Merion yearning for more

Upper Merion noticed last season it was on a homecoming tour.

Following a 1-10 season in 2017, the Vikings were supposed to be an easy win for several teams who set their homecoming weekends around the game against Upper Merion.

The Vikings didn’t get the message, spoiling a lot of homecoming games on the way to a 6-5 overall record and a District 1 Class 5A playoff appearance.

“We noticed a few teams thought they were going to get some easy wins out of us,” senior Marc Clayton said. “I hope we’re on their homecoming this year and ruin it.”

Last season was Upper Merion’s first winning season since 2008. The mindset for this season is determining which direction the program the goes next.

A taste of success has the Vikings wanting more.

“Obviously it just kept us motivated going into this offseason,” four-year starter Taiyan Lobban said. “It gave us extra power and energy.”

Some of the Vikings’ goals include competing for a PAC Frontier championship and advancing past the first round of the district playoffs.

After the departure of 13 seniors last year, a small but talented senior class that includes Lobban and three-year varsity starters Marc Clayton and Chris Nero will help decide if the program can reach new heights this year.

“These guys have seen what happens, how you get to 1-10 when you don’t take care of those little things and do what you’re supposed to,” third-year coach Victor Brown said. “They’ve seen how you can go 6-5 and get to the playoffs by doing the right things.

“Right now, it’s unique for them with that perspective, they have the chance to write their own history. The important thing that’s been the message going in is, ‘Are you content? Or do you want to take the next step?’”

A year after not playing football, Dale Clayton became the Vikings’ quarterback last season. Clayton passed for more than 1,000 yards. He also led the area with 15 interceptions.

The Vikings became a true dual-threat offense down the stretch with Clayton throwing the ball around the field and running back Zaire Savage, who finished with more than 800 yards last season, toting the rock.

With Savage gone, Dale Clayton’s development becomes even more crucial this season. It will help that his brother, and top pass catcher, will be back this season along with Lobban.

Aaron Anderson and Carter Bez, who broke into lineup halfway through last season, will give Dale Clayton two more targets to throw to. Anthony Swenda is the team’s top returning rusher.

“He definitely helped us a lot offensively last year,” Marc Clayton said of Dale. “He was throwing the ball to the right receivers, making smart reads. That definitely helped us a lot. I don’t know how good we would have been last year if we didn’t have him.”

“We’re putting a lot on him offensively this year,” Brown said. “For us taking that next step is going to be predicated on his continual growth.

Mercury All-Area players Mark Picarello (offensive and defensive line), Kevin Jainlett (defensive line) and Ahmad Stone (defensive back) along with first team all-Frontier defensive lineman Dontae Slocum and the other nine seniors from last year’s team leave big shoes to fill.

Nero and juniors Stefano Nikolaou and Justin Fisher will try to help sure up the Vikings’ offensive and defensive lines. Anderson and Bez join Lobban to give the defensive backfield some experience despite the loss of Stone, while Marc Clayton returns at linebacker for a defense that held opponents to 17 points per game last season.

“The message after the end of last season was, ‘Where do we want to go from here?’” Brown said. “We have a choice to either stay the same or work harder to get where we need to be. With what we’ve done this year in our offseason it’s starting to show that we’re still continuing to grow and go in the right direction.”

Offensive Player to Watch >> Brown made it abundantly clear that the Vikings will go as Dale Clayton goes this year. With most of his top receivers returning, he could be poised for a big senior year.

Defensive Player to Watch >> Lobban has had four years of varsity experience from which to help teach the rest of the Vikings’ defense this offseason. He put together a stellar junior campaign, reeling in five interceptions and will once again need to anchor the back of Upper Merion’s defense, particularly with Stone gone.

OUTLOOK >> Having a senior class that won just one game as sophomores should keep Upper Merion from any complacency this season despite last year’s success. The hope for the Vikings will be to have all their goals still lying ahead when they finish off the regular season with back-to-back games against Pottsgrove and Pope John Paul II.

By Owen McCue; omccue@21st-centurymedia.com

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Upper Merion Vikings

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