Monday, September 2, 2013

New look, same expectations: Warriors chasing 15th championship in 2013

#3 Fr RB Colton Turns from Oxford, Pa. / Oxford HS
WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. – It’s been almost a decade since the expectation of the other coaches in the Middle Atlantic Conference were for the Lycoming College football team to end the season with a conference title. However, the Warriors are no stranger to high expectations. After all, a program with two appearances in the Stagg Bowl and 14 conference titles under its belt comes with them.

Add in one of the most talented returning groups in the past decade, complete with two returning players who have earned All-American honors in their career, three Preseason All-Americans and seven all-conference honorees, and a recruiting class 51 members strong complete with 12 all-state selections, and the Warriors are ready to chase down their 15th MAC title.

 “We are blessed with a phenomenal history and tradition here,” Lycoming’s sixth-year head coach, Mike Clark ’93, said. “I wasn’t an amazing player, but I was blessed to be on some very good teams here. I was an assistant coach on some very good teams, so my mindset from the beginning has probably been skewed, which is why I was foolish enough to think we could win the league in 2008. But it is hard. The last two years, we felt we could do it and we were in the hunt all season. Those are the expectations here. The standard that Coach Girardi established in his time here is something we’re all aware of.”

Entering his sixth year at Lycoming, Clark has delivered four winning seasons, a MAC title in 2008 and back-to-back 8-2 seasons. The Warriors have finished second in the league in each of the last two years and regained the defensive footing that propelled the team to many of its 14 titles, as the team has finished in the top 10 in Division III in scoring defense in each of the last two years. With the team’s three Preseason All-Americans all on the defensive side of the ball, it’s no surprise that the defense will once again be counted on to anchor the team.

What may be a surprise, though, is how potent the offense has the potential to become. With second-year starting quarterback Tyler Jenny (Coaldale, Pa./Glendale) back after earning Honorable Mention All-MAC honors as a sophomore and junior running back Craig Needhammer (Lansdale, Pa./North Penn) ready to step into the top back slot, the team has one of the best backfields in the league to lead the offense.

Not to mention, senior Zack Czap (Philipsburg, Pa./Philipsburg-Osceola) returns as one of the most versatile special teams players in the country, as he is a three-time all-conference punter and a 2011 Honorable Mention All-American as a kicker.

With the corps of the team intact, there’s no doubt the high expectations are there for a reason. The 2013 Warriors are out to stake their own claim to one of the most prestigious legacies in college football.

The Offense
With a second-year starting quarterback and a running back with more than 250 carries during his career returning, the Warriors have one of the best returning backfields in the MAC. Where the team will also thrive is in its depth in the trenches, with three starting linemen returning, plus a two-year starter at tight end and a returning all-conference fullback.

Jenny enjoyed a fine first season as a starter, completing 60.5 percent of his passes (150-of-248) while throwing 17 touchdowns and being picked off just four times. He completed 60 percent of his passes in a school record seven straight games at one point. A solid pocket quarterback, Jenny also has the ability to move, rushing for three touchdowns and 138 yards as a sophomore. An Honorable Mention All-MAC quarterback, Jenny will need to continue to develop, but gives the Warriors a solid frontline option.

“For us to take the next step, he has to take the next step,” Clark said. “In his first year as a first-year starter, he did some really impressive things. He definitely has to get better, both physically on the field, and mentally and emotionally as a leader. He has to continue to step up for us.”

Behind Jenny, the Warriors return two other quarterbacks. Senior Matt McGinley (Ashland, Pa./Tri-Valley) returns for his fourth year in the program. He has always been at the top of the team’s depth at the position, but has appeared in just three games. He does contain one of the strongest arms on the team and could be counted on to win games, Clark said.

“He’s so smart and he’s worked so hard,” Clark said of McGinley. “Tyler Jenny is our starter for a reason, but Matt has come a long, long way. The expectations are for the position, not the player, so we expect Matt to be ready to go, too, and he will be.”

Freshman Chase Whiteman (Gettysburg, Pa./Gettysburg) also returns after spending the spring semester at Lycoming. He was a redshirt at Lock Haven in the fall.

Running Back
Much like Parker Showers ’13 before him, Needhammer has posted impressive numbers during his first two seasons at Lycoming while serving as a back-up running back. Now, as a junior, Needhammer, who finished sixth in the league with an average of 66.4 yards per game and tied for the team lead with eight rushing touchdowns, will get a chance to carry on a tradition that has seen a Warrior running back earn all-conference honors in each of the last six years.

“On most other teams in our league last year, he starts,” Clark said. “He is a complete player. He’s smart, explosive and can really go. Craig has big-play capabilities.”

Behind Needhammer, sophomore Brian Campbell (Drums, Pa./Hazleton Area) is the lone running back with game experience, as he picked up two carries as a rookie. Four freshmen also enter camp at the position and could earn playing time.

Junior Nick Mongiello (East Windsor, N.J./Hightstown) nailed down the starting fullback spot as a sophomore, earning honorable mention all-conference honors in the process. A great blocking back, he also showed some soft hands, finishing fifth on the team with 10 receptions and tied for second with two touchdowns.

“Nick has a great skill set,” Clark said. “He is explosive, powerful and catches the ball well.”

Sophomores Tyler Kapinus (Eynon, Pa./Valley View) and Josh Skoczynski (Harrisburg, Pa./Bishop McDevitt) could also each see time in the fullback rotation this year, while a mix of three freshmen also join the team.

Offensive Line
In the trenches, the Warriors will have one of the most experienced offensive lines during Clark’s six years as head coach, as seven players return with game experience. Second Team All-MAC selection Garrett Hartman (Jacobus, Pa./Dallastown Area) is back for his second-year as a starter, but the junior will move from the right tackle spot to left tackle. Joining him on the left side is likely sophomore Matt Patterson (Washingtonville, Pa./Danville Area), who saw regular time in the three of the first five games before an injury sidelined him for the rest of the season.

“We should have a good group,” Clark said. “We won’t have a senior offensive lineman, but right now, if you look at the group, we would play four juniors and a sophomore. I think the concerns of the offensive line will be the depth.”

At center, junior Casey Strus (Glenolden, Pa./Cardinal O’Hara) will return for his second year as a starter after starting the last nine games of the year and at right guard, junior Mike Chaput(Throop, Pa./Mid Valley) is back after starting nine games as a sophomore. In the right tackle spot, sophomore Matt Bloom (Frenchtown, N.J./Delaware Valley) could move into a starting slot after appearing in five of the last six games of the season, all Lycoming wins.

Several other returners could factor into the mix on the line, including junior Jude Bubeck(Schuylkill Haven, Pa./Blue Mountain), who saw time in five games last season and sophomoreNoah Lake (Port Jervis, N.Y./Minisink Valley), who played in three games. Sophomore Mike Watrel (Scranton, Pa./Scranton) could also see time on the line this year, along with nine freshmen.

Tight Ends
With two years behind him as a starting tight end, senior captain Greg Kovacs (Philadelphia, Pa./Father Judge) will once again provide a solid option as both a blocking lineman and someone who can turn into an offensive weapon.

“We feel great about Greg,” Clark said. “He has worked his way into being a captain. He really has a chance to be an all-conference player. He made great strides last year and he had a great spring.”

Kovacs caught five passes as a junior while starting all 10 games, but with a very solid spring behind him, Clark thinks he could become integral in the Warriors’ game plan.
Junior Jeremy Rosborough (Millmont, Pa./Mifflinburg) and two freshmen could also factor into the mix at the position.

Wide Receivers
On the outside, the Warriors will need to replace Jarrin Campman ’13, who found the end zone 12 times in 2012 and provided nearly 800 all-purpose yards. However, four others who factored prominently in the team’s passing game in 2012 do come back, led by junior John Sibel(Morrisville, Pa./Pennsbury) and senior captain Matt Atkinson (Media, Pa./Penncrest).

“Losing Jarrin, in terms of big plays, is going to be challenging, but John Sibel did some great things last year,” Clark said. “Matt has unique ability and will play a number of roles.”

Sibel started nine games as the team’s ‘X’ receiver, catching 35 passes, which was the ninth-best mark in the MAC, for 351 yards and two touchdowns.

Atkinson gave the Warriors a triple threat, as the versatile athlete finished third on the team with 18 catches and 213 receiving yards in just eight games, and also finished fourth on the team with 117 rushing yards on 25 attempts and completed one pass as the team’s option quarterback. He will once again serve in both capacities, while moving into the ‘Z’ receiver slot vacated by Campman.

Several others can help give the Warriors’ offense multiple looks, with sophomore Ryan Umpleby (Forest Hill, Md./Fallston) giving the team another option after catching 14 passes for 137 yards and a touchdown as a freshman. Junior Cam Kriner (Montgomery, Pa./Montgomery Area) caught six passes for 66 yards and will look to continue to make an impact, helped by his lanky 6-5 frame.

“We think Ryan can continue to grow and develop into a very talented player for us,” Clark said. “Cam has great size potential.”

Sophomore Matt Malecki (Stevensville, Md./Kent Island), sophomore A.J. Morgan (Renovo, Pa./Bucktail), sophomore Pat Whalen (West Chester, Pa./West Chester East) and a group of four newcomers will also factor into the mix at the position.

The Defense
At the end of the 2012 season, assistant head coach and defensive coordinator Steve Wiserreached two milestones seldom reached in collegiate football. With the 38-0 win over Misericordia that capped the season, he became just the second person in MAC history to reach 200 wins in conference play, as a player and coach, and he notched his 65th career shutout as a coach.

There’s no doubt that over the 40 years that Wiser has walked the sidelines at Lycoming, he has created a set of expectations. And, with a team that has finished in the top 10 in the nation in scoring defense in each of the last two years and returns three Preseason All-Americans, those expectations are for the tradition of defense being the backbone of a championship Lycoming team to be alive and well.

“Our philosophy is that if we can limit people, we’re going to be in every football game,” Clark said. “When you can go into a game knowing that you are pretty good on offense and that you can score in the 20s that you’re going to win, that is a good feeling. It just completely changes how you can play games.”

Defensive Line
With a scheme that is based on natural pressure coming from the four-man front that the Warriors use, the team will have to replace an all-region selection and a three-time all-conference player. To counter that, the team also returns two players that finished in the top 10 in the league in sacks.

Senior captain Dwight Hentz (Halifax, Pa./Halifax Area) will lead the group, as the USA Football Network Preseason All-American finished second in the MAC with 0.70 sacks per game and third with 1.30 tackles for loss. The defensive tackle posted 53 tackles, the second most on the team, while starting all 10 games and earning all-region honors.

Junior Braden Zeiner (Whitehall, Pa./Whitehall-Coplay) adds a burst of speed on the outside, as he posted 31 tackles in his first season as a starter. The defensive end finished tied for seventh in the league with 4.5 sacks and notched 7.5 tackles for loss.

Even with the loss of two starters on the line, the Warriors return several players with experience that will get the opportunity to step into a starting role.

Junior Jimmy Nottingham (Hightstown, N.J./Hightstown) is one of those players. While he started just two games as a sophomore, he played in all 10 and made 19 tackles, including four for loss. He will likely factor in as a tackle, but could move outside.

Junior Zack McMenamin (Prospect Park, Pa./Interboro) could also challenge for a spot in a defensive line spot. He played in all 10 games, starting one, as a sophomore, making 16 tackles, two for a loss.

Senior Robbie Brodish (Middletown, Pa./Middletown Area) could also move into a starting role as a defensive end after seeing time throughout his career on special teams. He made five stops during his junior season. Sophomore Cole Welham (Lewistown, Pa./Lewistown Area) could also see time as a defensive end after appearing in seven games as a rookie.

“We have a good starting point,” Clark said. “Dwight is a great person to start with. He is big, physical and very disruptive inside. Jimmy Nottingham really made some great strides last year along with Zack McMenamin. Braden Zeiner had a very nice sophomore year and we will expect that to continue. The question is who else will come along?”

Clark said sophomores John Ciurlino (Springfield, Pa./Springfield) and Josh Cook (Hatfield, Pa./North Penn) could also be counted on to contribute heavily in the line’s rotation, which usually runs six to seven players deep.

Others that could work into the lineup include sophomores David Burns (Bellwood, Pa./Bellwood-Antis), Seth Carper (Alexandria, Pa./Juniata Valley) and Jarrett Jeffries(Edison, N.J./J.P. Stevens) and juniors Kendall Edwards (Easton, Pa./Freedom) and Matt Cookson (Morrisville, Pa./Morrisville) as well as a group of eight freshmen.

With all three starting linebackers back, including the 2012 MAC Defensive Player of the Year, the Warrior linebacking crew, under the direction of 25th-year coach Mike Weber, will be counted on heavily to become the wrecking crew of the team’s defense.

In the center, senior captain and Preseason All-American Kabongo Bukasa (Sharon Hill, Pa./Academy Park) will once again roam. Bukasa, an extremely fast and athletic linebacker, led the Warriors with 70 tackles in just nine games and he was the only player in the MAC in the top 10 in the league in tackles and interceptions en route to the league’s player of the year award.

On the strong side, senior Tyler Denike (South Boardman, Mich./Forest Area) gives the Warriors another dimension of athleticism. A former Division I basketball player, Denike was a Second Team All-MAC honoree in 2012 while posting 34 tackles, 3.5 for loss. He also forced and recovered a fumble.

On the weakside, junior Kyle Sullivan (Coatesville, Pa./Bishop Shanahan) had a fine sophomore year, as he stepped into the starting lineup in the second week and never lost it, as he finished sixth on the team with 39 tackles and also posted 7.5 tackles for loss and two sacks.

“We’re as good at linebacker as we’ve been since I’ve been here,” Clark said. “We’re really athletic. Depth is a concern, and we may slide some people around there, but the one thing we have at linebacker is that we are much more athletic. The guys that are there, though, are some of the best in the conference.”

Junior Josh Himmelberger (Tremont, Pa./Pine Grove Area) and sophomore Phil Schron(Albrightsville, Pa./Marian Catholic) will need to step up to provide depth along with seniorRyan Boccagno (Maytown, Pa./Donegal) and sophomore Anthony Trotta (Old Forge, Pa./Old Forge). Eight freshmen can also see time in the linebacker slots.

Defensive Backs
After an injury-plagued season in the secondary in 2012, the Warriors enter this campaign with more depth at the position than they probably would have accounted for because of that. Exemplifying that is the team’s First Team Preseason All-American safetyTanner Troutman (Hegins, Pa./Tri-Valley), who was forced into the starting lineup in the second week due to an injury.

Troutman finished his first year as a starter with 53 tackles, 11 passes defended and five interceptions, the second-best mark in the MAC.

Besides Troutman, the Warriors also return a pair of cornerbacks with plenty of experience in juniors Kody Flail (Frackville, Pa./North Schuylkill) and Ryan Mihoci (Murrysville, Pa./Franklin Regional). Flail started seven games in his second year as a Warrior regular, as he notched 32 tackles and eight passes defended. Mihoci, who started three games as a sophomore, recorded 34 tackles and five passes defended as a regular contributor.

“Those three guys need to take charge,” Clark said. “Kody has good ability and has been on the field for two years. Ryan has played a lot and made a huge play against Rowan his freshman year. Tanner really elevated his game last year. They need to take the next step.”

The emergence of Mihoci toward the end of the 2012 season in the starting lineup should help suppress the team losing all-conference cornerback Matt Talerico to graduation, but the team will also need to replace all-conference safety Caleb Shertzer ’13. In that spot, the Warriors will look to seniors C.J. Arhontakis (West Grove, Pa./Avon Grove) and Mike Ciotti (Yardley, Pa./Pennsbury).

Both players have seen their playing time increase throughout their careers and could be ready to make a jump similar to Shertzer, who didn’t enter the starting lineup until the last eight games of his career. Arhontakis made 10 tackles as a junior, including one sack. Ciotti added one stop in five games.

On the corner, senior Andrew McGreevy (West Chester, Pa./Bayard Rustin) has also developed during his career, as the converted running back appeared in nine games and made a tackle in 2012. Sophomore Kyle Troutman (Dornsife, Pa./Line Mountain) also made an impact during the end of the season, posting five tackles in six games.

Sophomore Mike Gentile (Havertown, Pa./Haverford), sophomore Ethan Jeffries (Edison, N.J./J.P. Stevens) and senior Aaron Frederick (Lancaster, Pa./Penn Manor) each return from injury and could also make an impact, along with junior Trent Lee (Williamsburg, Pa./Williamsburg). A group of six newcomers will also add depth to the secondary rotation.

Special Teams
Czap gives the Warriors one of the best weapons in the league, as the multi-talented kicker gives the Warriors one of the best punters and kickers in the region.

Czap picked up his third career All-MAC mention as a punter his junior year. While finishing third in the league with a 35.1 yard per punt average, Czap was a master of helping the Warriors’ field position, knocking 18 of his 44 (41 percent) inside the 20-yard line. Another 10 punts were fair caught, preventing returns, and he booted a 70-yard blast against FDU-Florham, the longest punt in the MAC this year.

As a kicker, Czap began his career by hitting 12-of-14 field goals during his sophomore year, helping him earn an Honorable Mention All-American nod. As a junior, Czap hit 7-of-12 field goals in 2012 and added 31 extra points in 36 attempts.

“Our expectations for Zack are very high,” Clark said. “He is a great weapon as a punter. Placekicking-wise, we are confident that he will rebound and be the kind of kicker that he was in 2011. What we ask him to do with kicking and punting is hard, but we’re seen that he is capable doing it.”

While the Warriors lost their top kick returner in Parker Showers ’13, the team returns Needhammer, who averaged 21.9 yards on five returns after averaging 20.4 yards on 20 returns as a freshman. The speedy running back should be able to move into the lead returner slot, while Umpleby and Atkinson could both see time as the other kick returner and both could see action as punt returners.

A treacherous back-to-back stretch against 2012 Middle Atlantic Conference champion Widener and 2011 MAC champion Delaware Valley highlights the 2013 Lycoming College football schedule.

The Warriors, who finished 8-2 overall and 7-1 in the MAC in 2012, will begin the 2013 campaign looking for retribution when it opens the season Sept. 7 against the College at Brockport, which beat Lycoming, 24-2, in the season opener in 2012, at the University of Rochester’s Fauver Stadium.

The Warriors then will return home to open the conference season, facing Wilkes on Sept. 14. The team stays at home for Family Weekend, hosting Misericordia on Sept. 21.

The schedule then takes a turn for the treacherous, as Lycoming’s next four opponents finished in the top half of the MAC in 2012, beginning with the defending champions, Widener, in Chester, Pa., on Sept. 28. After that, the Warriors will host Delaware Valley, which has won four of the last five conference titles, on Saturday, Oct. 5.

The gauntlet won’t finish after week five, though, as Lycoming will head to Lebanon Valley, which finished fifth in the league in 2012 with a 5-4 record, on Oct. 12 and finish October by hosting Albright, which went 6-3 in the league, for Homecoming on the 26.

The Warriors will round out the season by heading to King’s on Nov. 2 and hosting FDU-Florham on Nov. 9.

In all, the Warriors will face six opponents during the 2013 season that finished with a winning record as they look to make a run for their 15th conference title.