Indians should be new, improved
New and improved.
That could be the motto of the Lehighton football team in 2010.
With an entirely different offense in place and a switch in their primary defense, the Indians will definitely have a new look.
After struggling with injuries and depth during a one-win season a year ago, head coach George Ebbert is hoping the changes lead to vast improvement.
"We have a good group of kids and they really worked hard in the off-season," said Ebbert. "We are definitely bigger and stronger than we were last year and that's because of the dedication our kids had during the offseason.
"We also have much better depth than a year ago. The one advantage to all the injuries we were hit with is that it allowed a lot of underclassmen to get playing time."
Ebbert knew bigger, stronger and deeper wasn't going to guarantee more victories, however. So the third-year head coach analyzed his team's strengths and decided to make some changes.
"At the end of last season, we looked at what we had coming back and felt that we could maximize our talent by changing our offense and our defense," said Ebbert.
The offensive switch will not only maximize Lehighton's talent but it will open some eyes.
After decades of wishbone and I-formation football that relied heavily on the running game, the Indians have gone to the spread offense this year.
"We just felt like it would be a natural fit for us because our quarterback (Josh Agosto) is equally as dangerous passing the ball as he is running the ball," said Ebbert. "We also had a wealth of talented athletes returning at the receiver position. That combination made the spread seem like a perfect option for us."
The spread, which features just one running back and multiple receiver sets, is currently the vogue offense in college football.
Ebbert took advantage of some of his connections in the college game to write an entirely new offensive playbook during the offseason.
"We went to some clinics, read books and watched videos," said Ebbert about how his staff prepared to install the offense. "But probably the biggest help we got came from [former Lehighton and Syracuse University standout] Dave Warner. Dave gave us a ton of video on the spread."
The video was of Texas Tech, one of the premier spread offense teams in college football.
"Dave is the quarterback coach at Michigan State and they played Texas Tech in a bowl this year so they had video of every game Tech played.
"We went through their entire season and broke down all the plays they run out of their spread. It was a huge help."
Ebbert said the despite the dramatic switch from an I-formation team that has produced six 1,000-yard rushing seasons in the last 12 years to a pass oriented spread offense, things have gone smoothly.
"We are very happy with the installation," said Ebbert. "We told the kids about it during the winter and have been working on it since the spring."
Among the top targets Agosto will have at his disposal are 6-1 sophomore Jacen Nalesnik, 6-0 senior Jon Rabenold, 5-11 junior Jon Strauss and 5-9 senior Matt Rebovich.
The Indians will also have a dangerous tailback in senior Giuseppe Caruso. Caruso broke on to the scene with a couple of big games at the end of his sophomore season, but was injured in the second practice last season and missed the entire campaign.
"Giuseppe is the perfect back for the spread offense," said Ebbert. "Not only does he have excellent speed, but he is great at running the stretch plays because of his excellent cutback ability."
While the change on defense isn't nearly as dramatic as Lehighton's offensive switch, it will be a little different.
After running a 4-3 defense as their base last year, the Indians will be more of a 3-4 team this year.
"We have some very talented linebackers," said Ebbert. "That's probably the strength of our defense.
"We will run three, four and five-man fronts during the course of the season, but because of our talent and depth at linebacker, the 3-4 might be our best look."
Leading the way defensively for the Indians will be linebackers Mitch Moyer, entering his third-year as a starter, and Ian Christman, a leader of the defense a year ago. Nalesnik, on the line, and Rebovich, in the secondary, have the most experience in their position groups.
Coming off a tough season in 2009, Ebbert thinks that a good start to the season will be important.
"I think the first few weeks will be a key," he said. "If we can win a couple of games early and get some momentum heading into the league, we can have a pretty successful season.
"Qualifying for the postseason is a goal of ours every year and this season is no different."