Norristown reshuffling, looks to compete in Liberty
Joe Milligan didn’t have much time to get up to speed last season.
Milligan became Norristown’s head coach in May with just three months to get to know his team and prepare them for the upcoming season. The result was a 28-7 loss to Upper Dublin in his first game.
He ironed out some kinks after that one, and the Eagles found a way to be competitive the rest of the way. Only one other game, a late September loss to Spring-Ford, was decided by more than two scores.
Norristown ended the season on a high note with wins over Methacton and Boyertown in two of its final three games to finish 3-7 overall and 2-3 in the Pioneer Athletic Conference Liberty Division. It was the first time since joining the PAC that the Eagles won more than one division game.
“That’s real challenging getting the guys to trust in you, understand the philosophy you’re trying to bring to them and understand what it takes to win,” Milligan said of taking over last May. “There was some butting heads, but eventually they found a way. We won some games.”
Though the game ended in a 14-7 loss, one of Norristown’s biggest moments last season was going toe-to-toe with eventual PAC champion Perkiomen Valley. The Vikings beat the Eagles 44-0 in 2017.
“The year before they blew us out,” senior Rashidi Santos said of PV. “Last year, we played them and held them down the entire game. That just gave us an eye opener [on] how much we can do and where we can be at.”
Norristown will have to replace quarterback Daniel Watson, who threw for 1,100 yards and ran for another 300 yards last season. Junior Nick DiNolfi, who got some time last season, and senior Thomas Bellmon are battling for the spot this upcoming season. Santos and senior Steven Haschak will be two reliable backs for whoever wins the quarterback battle.
The Eagles were hit hard by departures at wide receiver, including the transfer of first team all-area wideout Christian Thomas to Roman Catholic. The return of junior Travis Cummings, who caught 16 passes last season, will help soften the blow. Senior Tristan Maines, sophomore Levi Carroll and junior tight end Tyson Tate are some of the other top pass catchers heading into the season.
Both Santos and Haschak will also be two of the Eagles’ leaders on defense at linebacker. DiNolfi and Bellmon should help out at safety. The defensive backfield will be inexperienced, but junior Zion Malone is a player who made some big stops for the team late last season. Cummings and seniors Bryce Carroll and Isaiah Tucker, who was a special teams spark in 2018, are others Milligan mentioned on defense.
Milligan feels the strength of the team will be the offensive and defensive lines. Senior Liam Smith is a three-year varsity player. He’s joined by senior Donovan Noble and junior Mason Licwinko on both sides of the ball.
“We have the energy this year,” Smith said of the line. “We’re not very big, but we have heart.”
The Eagles haven’t had a winning season since winning the Suburban One Continental Division in 2009, the team’s first outright championship in 52 years. However, Milligan, a 1996 Norristown grad, remembers a Norristown program that was revered throughout the area and even the state. He would eventually like to get his alma mater back to those heights.
With their first full offseason under their belts, Milligan and his team are excited about what they can potentially accomplish.
“Last year, we just didn’t have enough time to really go through the whole offseason process and get together and go out there,” Haschak said.
“We’ve had more time to actually come together as a team during this offseason,” Santos added. “I feel like we have a stronger bond, and that’s going to help us finish out, win more ames.”
Norristown 2019 Schedule
Offensive Player to Watch >> Watson threw the ball nearly 200 times last season with more than 80 more attempts on the ground, leading the team in both passing and rushing. Whoever wins the battle between DiNolfi and Bellmon will have to be ready for a lot of usage.
Defensive Player to Watch >> Smith is one of the most experienced players on the Eagles’ roster. If he and the others can fortify things up front, it will take pressure off some of the younger players on the defense.
Season Outlook >> In their fourth season in the PAC, the Eagles have sized up the rest of the PAC Liberty Division. While currently looking up at Owen J. Roberts, Perkiomen Valley and Spring-Ford at the top of the division pecking order, they hope to be on that level, if not higher by the end of the season. “I’m getting used to seeing a few teams, and there’s not a single team that we can’t beat,” Santos said. Norristown will have to have some inexperienced players fill big holes in order to reach their lofty goals.
By Owen McCue; firstname.lastname@example.org