Retooled Phantoms looking for encore after historic ’18 season
In his return to District One football last season, coach Don Grinstead reestablished the Phoenixville Phantoms as a smashmouth, old-school football team in leading the squad to its first playoff appearance in six years, and its first ever as a member of Class 5A.
Now, Grinstead finds himself starting anew with a retooled lineup of players.
Hit hard by graduations in the offensive backfield, the Phantoms may be short on experience, but they’re long on dedication and confidence going into 2019.
“Last year featured plenty of unknowns for me in my first year,” said Grinstead, “But this year, the biggest positive is that I know when we go out on that field, these kids are going to fight for one another.”
Leading the fight this season on both sides of the ball will be senior Jack Pizor, who figures to take the place of graduated Connor Patania at quarterback. Pizor, who also features as a linebacker on the Phantoms’ defense, is Grinstead’s ideal team leader.
“At the end of the day, you want that guy who works hard, shows the smarts and cares above all about his teammates,” the coach said.
But any team led by Grinstead will make the running game its bread and butter, and the 2019 Phantoms are no different. Junior Aidan Foley and sophomore Owen Koch have the tall task of replacing last year’s tandem of Travis Pannella and Alex Washington, both of whom finished in the top 10 in rushing in the PAC one year ago. Foley gained valuable experience primarily in a blocking role, while Koch figures to see his role grow throughout the campaign.
The outside receiver spots are one area where the Phantoms do return some experience in the form of senior Anthony Stevenson and multi-talented sophomore Trey Davis.
Phoenixville prides itself on ‘cross-training’ its athletes, allowing each player to fill in at any spot on the field within reason. This also gives Grinstead the ability to try new things in his offense while relying on a few key leaders on both sides of the ball. The aforementioned Pizor and Foley figure to feature as linebackers, while Stevenson and Davis will anchor the secondary. (Last season, teams tended to stay away from Davis in the passing game, a factor Grinstead hopes to mitigate by moving him to safety in 2019.) Matt Johnson’s play will be pivotal on both lines.
“There are other teams out there with more talent,” Grinstead admitted. “We’ve got a lot of players doing the iron-man thing, playing both ways. But when we get out there on the field, you’re going to have to beat us.”
After a return to the district playoffs in his first season, one of Grinstead’s main goals for 2019 is clear.
“Beat Great Valley,” he said. “I’ve been on both sides of that rivalry, and I was part of the group at Great Valley that started their winning streak over (Phoenixville) in 2012. We’re determined to see that end this year.”
Phoenixville 2019 Schedule
Offensive Player to Watch >> While Pizor steps into the quarterback role and has been anointed the team’s ‘unquestioned leader’ by Grinstead, Aidan Foley’s ability to fill the running game production provided by Pannella and Washington last season will go a long way in determining the fate of the Phantoms’ offense.
Defensive Player to Watch >> One of the highlights of Grinstead’s first year in charge was seeing Brady Aselton commit himself to the game of football and watching his improvement week over week. Now as a senior, Aselton moves to a more natural position of defensive end and aims to wreak havoc in backfields through the PAC Frontier.
OUTLOOK >> With such a team-wide emphasis placed on the Great Valley game by the Phantoms, the outcome of that opening contest should go a long way toward determining the squad’s path for 2019. Ending the school’s seven-year losing streak against the Patriots could give this Phoenixville team the confidence and momentum to not only return to the Class 5A playoffs, but to challenge to break into the top half of the Frontier Division.
By Rob Senior; For MediaNews Group