Friday, August 26, 2016

2016 Lycoming Football Season Preview: Growing up

Head Coach Mike Clark starts his 9th season
WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. – A season ago, the Lycoming College football team was looking to replace 14 starters. The results were predictable for the most part – a 4-6 record and just the second losing campaign in head coach Mike Clark’s eight years at the helm. What wasn’t predictable was the growth shown by the team, winning three of its last four games, including a dramatic 43-42 win over 19th-ranked Delaware Valley.

This year, loaded with 15 returning starters and several others that earned significant playing time, the Warriors will still be a young group that features 85 underclassmen. However, it will also be a team brimming with confidence and ready to reap the rewards of a strong offseason effort when it opens its season on Sept. 3 against rival Susquehanna in the Stagg Hat Trophy game.

“We were young and inexperienced last year,” Clark, who is beginning his ninth year at the helm of the Warriors with a 52-29 record to his credit, said. “We weren’t very mentally tough because we weren’t tested. We became more resilient as the year went on. The turning point was really finding a way to beat Delaware Valley. It told our kids that if you hang in there, you can do something special. That led to an incredible offseason from our guys. I think we are talented enough to beat anybody.”

Steve Wiser - 47 years as a Warrior
The Warrior offense brings back eight starters from a group that features the Middle Atlantic Conference’s leader in pass efficiency and leading rusher, while the defense returns seven starters and a preseason two-deep that features just three seniors on it. Of course, if there is anything that Warrior fans have counted on in the past 43 years, it’s that defensive coordinator Steve Wiser will manage to get the best out of this young group.

“A big part of it is thinking that we are good,” Clark said. “We have to put ourselves in some tough situations during camp. We have to be on the opposite end of a lot of things that happened this year. With a really good offseason and two long preseason weeks, we will be able to pick up and grow.”

Chase Whiteman
Succeeding one of the best players in program history is never an easy task, but fifth-year senior Chase Whiteman (Gettysburg, Pa./Gettysburg Area) turned in a solid effort during his first year as a starter in 2015.

Facing some hurdles during a 1-5 start to his career as a starter, Whiteman ended up leading the MAC in passing efficiency (144.5) and passing yards per completion (14.25). He nearly willed the team to victory against Delaware Valley, passing for 372 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 61 yards and one more score in the win. Now with a year under his belt, Clark said Whiteman is in much better position to succeed.

“The guy that grew up the most last year was Chase,” Clark said. “We got better at quarterback and that is such a hard position to learn. He made some mistakes, but without him, we don’t beat Delaware Valley. He has said that the game has slowed down for him. His knowledge and experience is hard to come by.”

Three other quarterbacks also return with experience in the system, with junior Collin Wright (Secane, Pa./Ridley) seemingly entrenched in the backup position. The 6-5 gunslinger has the strongest arm on the team, but will he will also face a challenge for the backup slot with junior Chase Williams (Damascus, Md./Damascus), a more mobile option, similar to Whiteman, that can also see time at wide receiver.

“Collin is a guy that we’ve known has the physical tools to be a good quarterback,” Clark said. “He didn’t play much in high school – he split time as a junior and played as a senior. He was hurt and missed his whole freshman year. This is a big preseason for Collin. He has to continue to improve. Chase Williams is also a very talented guy. We like our top three quarterbacks.”

Sophomore Logan English (Jersey Shore, Pa./Jersey Shore Area) and three freshmen quarterbacks will also work to get into the regular rotation.

Running Backs
Blake Bowman
Much like Whiteman, senior Blake Bowman (Valley View, Pa./Tri-Valley) had to take over a running back position from one of the school’s best players in program history. He also succeeded in his first season with the program, leading the MAC with 1,150 yards and winning two MAC Offensive Player of the Week awards. He also scored a school record 18 touchdowns, including becoming the first Warrior in program history to score four touchdowns in back-to-back weeks at one point.

“Blake had an amazing year in 2015,” Clark said. “We have to figure out how to continue to use him best. Blake is relatively fresh and a guy we want to get 20-plus carries a game. Sam is the next guy there right now.”

Junior Sam Dressler (Riverside, Pa./Danville Area) is the lone other returning player in the backfield after posting 13 carries for 40 yards in limited exposure as a sophomore. A group of seven freshmen running backs, though, gives the team solid depth.

“Sam is a decisive, downhill, hard-nosed runner,” Clark said. “There are some very good players in the group of incomers. We are going to figure out who is going to do the things we need them to do. Who can learn what we are doing and really apply it and take the next step as a college freshman is going to determine how the rest of that position shakes out.”

At fullback, the Warriors return senior Dennis Dimaio (Cockeysville, Md./Loyola Blakefield), who stepped into the starting role in 2015, finishing with four catches for 21 yards.

“Dennis really played pretty well last year based on the circumstances,” Clark said. “He stepped up and performed in a tough spot and we are going to continue to be a two-back team.”

Sophomore Kyle Puza (Manville, N.J./Manville), junior R.J. Haas (Dupont, Pa./Pittston Area) and a freshman will also work to see time in the fullback rotation.

Wide Receivers
Keeghan Morrison
Although the team lost one of its best receivers in program history in Ryan Umpleby, the Warriors will feature a young but talented crew, with only one senior, Keeghan Morrison (Loysville, Pa./West Perry).

Sophomore Nick Costello (Havertown, Pa./Haverford) will lead the group, with the 6-5 wideout looking to take over Umpleby’s position on the ‘x’ after catching 28 passes for 296 yards and three scores as a freshman.

“Nick can be very good at this level,” Clark said. “He was pretty good late last year and had a really good offseason. He has a chance to become one of the best receivers in the conference this year. There aren’t many 6-5, 210-pound guys. He is going to be a tough matchup for a lot of people.”

Morrison, meanwhile, could become an even more important possession receiver after making six catches for 70 yards and a score as a junior. Chase Williams, while also seeing snaps at quarterback, will most likely be a part of the opening day rotation at receiver, thanks to his athletic frame and good hands. Beyond that, an athletic group of sophomores will be expected to make an impact, led by Kyle Slivka-Fralin (Bristol, Pa./Bristol) and Mike Mulvihill (Tabernacle, N.J./Seneca). Brock Zollicoffer (Owings Mills, Md./Owings Mills) and John Kim (Havertown, Pa./Haverford) give the team even more options, especially in three receiver fronts.

A group of seven freshmen give the team even more depth and opportunities.

“We really like the group,” Clark said. “When you look at that position, they have to learn, they are inexperienced, but there are some big guys, some athletic guys.”

Tight Ends
Matt Adams
With an experienced group that features a returning starter and four others that have experience in the program, Clark said he is excited about the possibilities at tight end.

Senior Matt Adams (Erial, N.J./Timber Creek), who stepped into the starting lineup midway through his sophomore year, started all nine games he played in as a junior, making four catches for 53 yards.

“Matt is an interesting case,” Clark said. “He was a high school offensive lineman, who then became a fullback and ended up becoming a three-headed monster two years ago and then settled in last year while battling through some injuries. He gives us what we want in the run game – he has worked to get better at catching the ball and he is a guy that can play at the line or move around in an H-back capacity.”

Meanwhile, junior Erik Wagner (Warriors Mark, Pa./Tyrone Area) moved to the tight end position midway through his sophomore year and immediately found playing time. Sophomore Payton Crosson (Harrisburg, Pa./Susquehanna Township) will move from the offensive line to a slot at tight end and sophomores Logan Mirolli (Coal Township, Pa./Shamokin Area) and Joe Oquendo (Upland, Pa./Monsignor Bonner) and junior Tyler Gardner (Williamsport, Pa./Williamsport Area) all give the team added options, plus two freshmen will also factor into the mix.

“We might use two guys a little more often,” Clark said. “From a personnel standpoint, those guys give us pretty good flexibility.”

Offensive Line
Bailey Hughes
In 2015, one of the biggest question marks for Lycoming came on the offensive line, where the team needed to replace three starters. This year, the Warriors return nine players on the two-deep that played at least three games, but also welcome one of the largest groups of freshmen lineman since Clark took over the program.

The group will be led by its left side, where seniors Bailey Hughes (Forest City, Pa./Carbondale) and Austin Mital (Ginter, Pa./Moshannon Valley) will reside. Hughes, at 6-3, 270, is back for his third season as a starter, entering the season with a team-high 20 straight starts under his belt. Mital, a Second Team All-MAC selection in 2015, secured the left guard starting spot in his first season where he was available to start for a majority of the year.

Austin Mital
“Austin was voted a captain for a reason,” Clark said. “He has battled injuries along the way, but he is a very steady force. He is physical, strong, athletic and smart. He is a good player at our level.
Having Bailey right next to him makes that experience on the left side great.”

At center, the Warriors will need to replace an all-conference performer in Matt Patterson, but the 6-1, 282-pound junior Brad Stubbs (Curwensville, Pa./Curwensville Area) gives the team some solid experience, as he started five games on the line in his first year with the program.

“Brad has to be a good player for us if we are going to be a good team,” Clark said. “He is strong and mean. He can move people. He plays with some strength that not a lot of people do. We are really excited about him. If he can do it at center, then we are going to be very good inside.”

On the right side, the Warriors return two more players that gained significant experience in 2015 in senior Brad Biever (Schuylkill Haven, Pa./Schuylkill Haven) and junior Colin Buffington (Quarryville, Pa./Solanco). Biever started eight games at right guard, while Buffington started four and played in eight.

“Both those guys last year were put in tough spots,” Clark said. “Knowledge isn’t an issue with either of those guys. They had good offseasons when they were here. If those guys are good players, we should have good depth at the offensive line.”

That depth includes Levi Myers (Muncy, Pa./Muncy Area) (four games) at tackle, seniorBill Lytle (Seven Valleys, Pa./Dallastown Area) (two games) at guard and senior Jeff Weiss (Cranford, N.J./Cranford) (five games) at center, as all four saw time on the field in 2015. Sophomores Dan Sipps (Philadelphia, Pa./Father Judge) and Bobby Elia(Bridgeton, N.J./Cumberland Regional) and senior Chris Raupers (Waverly, N.Y./Waverly) also have experience in the Warrior system and will give the team even more depth. Meanwhile, a freshmen group of 13 players will give the team a chance for even more competition during preseason.

“There is some experience there, but we are looking forward to creating some depth and competition there, because it is a nice group,” Clark said.

Much like the offense, the Lycoming defense will continue to be young during the 2016 season, with just four seniors residing on the preseason two-deep. But a year after returning just four starters, the Warriors return seven.

“I think there is a confidence or mindset we need to continue to develop,” Clark said. “We are going to be a physically and mentally tough team and we weren’t last year. At the end of the day, it comes down to individual battles and being in a situation where you refuse to let the guy across from you beat you. Part of being good is believing that you are good.”

Defensive Line
Tyler Smith
When the Warriors had developed into a perennial top-25 vote getter earlier in the decade, there was no doubt where the strength of the team laid – and it was in the hands of All-American linemen like Anthony Marascio ’12 and Dwight Hentz ’13.

This season, the Warriors will look for pair of veterans to put pressure on the quarterback and force things to happen. Senior captain Tyler Smith (Sellersville, Pa./Archbishop Wood) returns on the defensive line and finally healthy after a pair of rough seasons. Despite some upper body injuries as a junior, he still managed 20 tackles, 4.5 for loss and a pick-six.

“We think he is probably physically where he was three years ago, when he started for us as a freshman,” Clark said. “Tyler can be very good. He is super athletic for the position.”

Meanwhile in the middle, senior Jon Rummel (Lykens, Pa./Williams Valley) had a breakthrough season as a junior, with the 6-2, 250-pounder moving into a defensive tackle slot and leading the team with 4.5 sacks while posting 35 tackles.

“He is a taller guy than we’ve had in there, but he doesn’t play high,” Clark said of Rummel. “He has really long arms. He can be very disruptive. If he is healthy, we need him to step up and become an all-conference player.”

Sophomore Ahmad Curtis (Effort, Pa./Pleasant Valley), juniors Mike Palmer (Chester, Pa./Monsignor Bonner) and Jake Mika (Tower City, Pa./Williams Valley) and seniors Dan Heinrichs (Pennsburg, Pa./Upper Perkiomen) and Adin Hines (Harrisburg, Pa./Susquehanna Township) will all also be counted on to step into more featured roles after seeing action in 2015, as one of the keys to Wiser’s defensive lines has been how often players rotate in and out. Sophomores Sam Romanofsky (Havertown, Pa./Haverford), Taylor Kim (Avondale, Pa./Avon Grove), Jason Coombs (Bridgeton, N.J./Cumberland Regional), Josh Flowers (Cherry Hill, N.J./Cherry Hill East), senior Cody Stemrich (Sweet Valley, Pa./Wyoming Seminary) and a group of three freshman will also try to work into the mix at the position.

“We think there is enough there that we can get back to having an athletic group,” Clark said. “We need Ahmad and Jake to add some size and occupy people in the middle. If we can get people to third-and-long, we will have big, tall athletic guys that can rush the passer. We have to be disruptive.”

In 2015, 16 Warriors appeared on the two-deep at linebacker throughout the season. The constant mix-up to find the right set still leaves a lot of questions as the 2016 season opens, but the depth and athleticism of the group is instantly eye-catching.

Clark said he is excited about his options at the Will position, with the plan to be to continue to transition former defensive backs to the position, giving the team a pass coverage option without forcing a substitution.

Zach Smith
Junior Caleb Robbins (Williamsport, Pa./Loyalsock Township) has impressed after moving to the position late in the 2015 season. While mixing in play as a safety in 2015, Robbins notched 33 tackles and two pass breakups in his first year in the regular rotation. Senior Zach Smith (Elliotsburg, Pa./West Perry), a transfer from Wesley, gives the team another option at the position, as he posted 22 tackles and recovered a fumble in the end zone during his first year with the team.

Senior Kirby Moist (Lewistown, Pa./Mifflin County) will also see time in the position after making 12 tackles as a junior.

“When you look at how teams play offense, there aren’t a ton of teams that play traditional I-formation football anymore,” Clark said. “You are dealing with offenses that may use a tight end or fullback, but often don’t use both, a lot like us. Having guys like Caleb, Kirby and Zach Smith at Will, you are almost already playing a nickel defense, so as teams try to spread you out, you don’t need to substitute.”

In the middle, the Warriors turned the job over to sophomore Dominic Loffredo (Linden, Pa./Jersey Shore Area), and the 6-0, 205-pounder finished the year with 46 tackles, fourth-most on the team. Sophomore Vimire Jenkins (Pennsauken, N.J./Pennsauken) is also poised for an increased role in the middle, as the athletic player is moving up from safety to learn the new position.

On the strongside, sophomore Nick Kovalick (Woodland, Pa./Clearfield Area) started three games in 2015, and will likely continue to see an increased role, while junior Malik Thomas (Delran, N.J./Delran) will also need to step up.

Sophomores Gabe Fuhrman (Bainbridge, Pa./Elizabethtown Area), Logan Chetaitis(Mechanicsburg, Pa./Cumberland Valley) and junior Josh Sawka (Dunmore, Pa./Dunmore) also return and will compete for playing time. Nine freshmen, including two all-state selections, will also dot the roster.

Defensive Backs
Michael Ward
In 2015, the Warriors were forced to use inexperienced players in the secondary. While the oldest player on the two-deep is just a junior, the team does return five players that have experience and began to grow into important roles on the team, starting with junior safety Michael Ward (Edgewater, Md./South River).

A fast, talented safety that gives the team its latest in a long history of ballhawks, Ward led the Warriors with 69 tackles, finished fifth in the MAC with four interceptions and second with 13 passes defended.

“At times last year, Michael tried to be the answer to everything and that isn’t the right answer,” Clark said. “He has the talent to be an all-conference player. When things slowed down back there, he was able to play as well as Michael Ward is capable of playing. He is a guy that will be our leader on the back end.”

In the other safety spot, sophomore Joe Pinzka (Perkasie, Pa./Lansdale Catholic) will likely see and increased role after making 11 tackles as rookie. Sophomore Jarrell Payne(Jersey City, N.J./Liberty), who made 19 tackles and defended four passes as a freshman, will also compete for time at the position after returning from an injury. Sophomore Josh LoBasso (Honesdale, Pa./Honesdale Area) could also factor into the mix.

At the cornerback positions, the team returns sophomore D.J. Boyd (District Heights, Md./Fairmount Heights) and junior Jonathan Zedar (Dalton, Pa./Lackawanna Trail), who split time with each other as starters in 2015. Boyd finished with 25 tackles, four breakups and an interception, while Zedar posted 24 tackles and six breakups.

Sophomore Khamari Williams (Gaithersburg, Md./The Avalon School) will also work into the rotation when he returns from an injury and junior Aaron Davis (Sayreville, N.J./Sayreville War Memorial) will also see an increase in reps. Four freshmen will also have a chance to contribute immediately.

Special Teams
With a new special teams coordinator in Tim Landis, the Warriors will look to win the battle of field position and maximize its scoring opportunities thanks to a pair of returning starters.

Junior Devon Flynn (Levittown, Pa./Conwell-Egan Catholic) is a talented kicker that converted 4-of-7 field goals and 31-of-36 extra point attempts in 2015. However, under pressure, Flynn has always delivered, converting an on-sides kick against Delaware Valley before drilling a game-winning field goal in the win.

At punter, sophomore Connor Bell (Mickleton, N.J./Kingsway Regional) took over the starting job as a freshman, averaging 33.0 yards per kick, downing 14 of his 56 kicks inside the 20.

Junior Joe Bernardini (Hicksville, N.Y./Kellenberg Memorial) also has game experience punting and sophomore Andrew Traxler (Lewistown, Pa./Mifflin County) could also see time kicking or punting. Two freshman will give the positions added depth.