Wildcats staying grounded, looking to build off solid ’18 season
It’s the time of year when every team is in first place, sports unbeaten records and abounds with optimism.
Pre-season training camps are times for across-the-board enthusiasm and determination to achieve better results than were realized the previous season. They offer a “grace period” before the reality of official games, wins, losses and sideways glances at divisional and league standings kick in.
Owen J. Roberts subscribes to the same approach as other teams preparing for the 2019 high-school football season. And on the basis of what they showed since last October, the Wildcats feel validated in their mindset.
“We have a hard working group that’s done a lot all year round,” head coach Rich Kolka said following one of the team’s opening-week acclimation practices. “A nice core of athletes of all ages who’ve done a lot of work. We have many contributors at different levels.”
A blend of veterans and youngsters will hold the key to Owen J. improving on last year’s respectable showing. The ‘Cats went 6-5 overall (3-2 Pioneer Athletic conference Liberty Division), their finish hampered by a pair of season-ending losses to Upper Merion and Daniel Boone.
The finale against the Blazers came in the teams’ Eastern Conference playoff game, by a 28-20 count. In light of OJR’s 28-7 win over Boone the second week of last season, the memory of that contest is fueling the Wildcats for their Aug. 30 rematch at home.
“Motivation,” Kolka said. “We play Boone in week two. We’ll be ready for that one.”
The experience of senior Cooper Chamberlain is back behind center. Joining him in the offensive backfield is classmate Josh Jackson, working out of a running back role he describes as his favorite position.
“I’ve played there since I was five years old,” Jackson said. “That’s my thing, making plays.
Chamberlain has some young receivers vying for spots in the starting lineup. Junior Dante DeNardo, a second team All-PAC Liberty performer as a sophomore last season, and sophomores Aston Shrum and Tony Villarosa are in the pass-catching mix for OJR.
“Wide receiver and defensive back,” Villarosa said of his favorite positions to play. “I can go everywhere on the field doing them.”
“Our passing game has the potential to be explosive,” Kolka added. “Making good, quick decisions and not holding the ball long. Cooper makes good decisions based on what the defense gives him.”
The Roberts defense is anchored in the secondary by a pair of All-PAC Liberty second-team picks: Seniors Connor Leister at defensive back and Ian Sordilla at linebacker. Jackson is also at linebacker.
Another pair of 12th-graders, Shane Ruley and Kurt Sayers, will see action on the line.
“We lost a couple key defensive linemen,” Kolka said, “so we need replacements. We should have a more athletic defense.”
As is the case on the offensive side, Shrum and Villarosa are working toward seeing action on defense. Shrum is working at linebacker, and Villarosa at D-back.
“I’m trying to get as many varsity reps as possible,” Shrum said. “Outside linebacker is my favorite position. I played there two years.
“I like to be versatile, doing a little bit of everything. I like to drop back and play all over the field.”
OJR will again kick off its season against Conestoga, hosting the Pioneers Friday, Aug. 23.
“For the most part, we should do well,” Kolka said. “We’ll be competitive every game. First to fourth, we’ll see where we stand.”
Owen J. Roberts 2019 Schedule
OFFENSIVE PLAYER TO WATCH >> Josh Jackson will look to establish himself in a running game thinned by the graduation of standout Marcus Martin. “I try to make a point of starting at as many positions as I can … reading the playbook and trying to do my best,” Jackson said.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER TO WATCH >> Kurt Sayers, a two-way performer, will be called on to be a stalwart on the defensive line.
OUTLOOK >> The Wildcats’ enthusiasm and confidence were bolstered by their showing in a camp at Lebanon Valley College the week of July 21. They faced such upper-level talent as Southern Columbia, the 2018 PIAA Class 2A champion. “I think we’ll do great,” Kolka said.
By Jeff Stover; email@example.com