Down to five teams, BAL still looks competitive
No league has felt the effects of attrition quite like the Bicentennial Athletic League.
After competing with six teams last year, the league will contain just five football-playing schools this fall. Last year Delco Christian opted to go the route of eight-man football and after the season concluded, Valley Forge Military Academy chose to take the same path, leaving New Hope-Solebury, Bristol, Morrisville, Jenkintown and Lower Moreland to carry the BAL banner.
The schools may fall into the smaller PIAA classifications and the league may have been reduced, but it should detract from the competition within the BAL this fall.
New Hope-Solebury topped the BAL with a perfect 5-0 league record last season as the Lions have continued a recent run of strong seasons. NHS saw its season end at the hands of fellow Bucks County power Conwell-Egan in the District 1-12 3A regional final last fall, but the Lions look to have plenty back in the fold.
Junior quarterback Phil Weinseimer was the BAL’s offensive player of the year a season ago for coach Jim Ditulio. Typically, the Lions succeed on offense with a robust line, a stable of running backs and a good quarterback who makes the throws he has to.
Such was the case last year, although New Hope-Solebury does lose standout linemen John Managan, a first team All-BAL and co-Defensive Player of the Year pick, Topher Taylor and Charles Bray. Second team All-BAL guard Zach Griffiths returns as does Connor Fitzgerald to anchor the offensive line.
Weinseimer will be able to hand the ball off to returning all-league picks Mike Borys and Tom Raupp, although losing lead back Tim Leonard will require some new faces to step up. The returning offensive MVP loses a top target in Pat Cooney but has a crop of young receivers to connect with.
Like most teams in the BAL, a majority of New Hope-Solebury’s top players will line up on both sides of the ball and the Lions usually have a tough defense to go with their potent offense. New Hope has loaded its non-league schedule, starting off with road games at Upper Moreland, fellow District 1-3A squad Pope John Paul II and the Academy of the New Church, which handed the Lions a one-point OT loss last fall.
One of the smallest high schools in the entire state, Jenkintown still went 4-1 in the BAL last year but first-year head coach Luke Ashenbrenner has to replace some key cogs from his numerically limited roster. A former assistant who took over the head job this offseason, Ashenbrenner is very happy with the attitude and energy so far in camp but noted there’s a lot yet to do.
“In order for us to be successful this year, we are going to need a few of our inexperienced linemen to develop,” Ashenbrenner said. “We will have five new starters on the offensive line. If they gel sooner rather than later, I think we will be successful.”
The Drakes, who beat Bristol in the regular season but lost to the Warriors in the District 1 Class A regional, do have experience back under center and at the skill positions. Losing lineman Cade Lafferty, a first-team offensive lineman and co-defensive player of the year, is a huge hole to fill, as is the departure of receiver/safety Adam Giammanco but Jenkintown has some options.
Quarterback CJ Jackmon returns off a second team all-league season and he has weapons back in the form of Johnson John, Aviv Jackson and Albert Koniers and lineman Nate Miller.
“Wide receiver and running back are two areas where we are seeing some great competition in camp,” Ashenbrenner said. “We are fortunate to bring back our quarterback in CJ Jackmon.”
Lower Moreland enters the third season of its rebuild under coach Justin Beck needing to replace a host of senior contributors from last year. Chief among them were record-setting quarterback Coleman Peppelman and receiver Forrest Keys, an All-BAL pick at wideout and defensive back but losing RB/LB Jordan Zoubroulis, WR/DB Josiah Wiggins and LB Nick Derderian leave just as vital holes to fill.
As much as those guys did on the field, Beck lauded them for their constant efforts to recruit more athletes to help bolster the numbers in the program, work that will begin to pay off this season with that senior class graduated.
Junior Pat Whittle returns to anchor both the offensive and defensive line while junior Nick Deglimini returns as a leader at linebacker and will likely fit in on the offensive line. Sal Penecale, a junior, was Peppelman’s backup at quarterback last season while senior John Sheridan is the only returning player with a reception.
The Lions may not have a large senior class, but they’ll have a host of juniors and sophomores who should see plenty of snaps as the ongoing work to rebuild the program continues on.
Bristol started slowly last season, but the Warriors finished strong to reach the District I/2 A regional final. A program long known for producing outstanding running backs, the Warriors have to replace last season’s top rushers in Mike Are and Lucas Bogarde, also a co-defensive player of the year.
Bristol does return a couple stout linemen in senior John Burnett, junior Scott Trezise and sophomore Anthony Silver. Sophomore Dante Morris will have an expanded role at running back while receiver/defensive back Lynn Anthony also returns to the mix.
Morrisville likewise has to replace its top runners in Isaiah McDavison and James Williams, plus quarterback Felix Feliciano. Brian Strother returns on the offensive line and at linebacker and senior Mekhi Crooks returns at receiver.
By Andrew Robinson, email@example.com