Football 2018: Official practices start Monday
The wait is over.
Football is back.
The 2018 season kicks off in earnest on Monday as all nine Times News area squads begin the first week of two-a-day practices.
Hopes are high as teams get ready to improve — or build on — last year’s results.
“We’re excited to get started, what’s always cool to see is the young guys getting acclimated to the speed of the game, seeing how they adjust, and the older guys just getting back into the swing of things,” said Palmerton head coach Chris Walkowiak. “When you’re out there in pads and helmets, it changes the intensity too. You work all offseason to get to this point, so it’s a big build up, and you can just see how pumped up everyone is.”
The Blue Bombers are one of two area squads that played in a district title game a season ago. Palmerton fell to Schuylkill Haven in the Class 2A championship game for the second straight year.
Gone is do-everything quarterback Tekoah Guedes, who proved to be as much of a weapon with his legs as his arm.
But Palmerton returns a solid core of skill players in Jordan Nelson, Cody Waterhouse, Aaron Stasko, Andrew Sabo, among others.
Lehighton enjoyed one of the finest seasons in program history a year ago, going undefeated during the regular season en route to a Schuylkill League Division 1 title and a spot in the Class 3A title game.
Like the Blue Bombers, the Indians will have to a replace a record-setting quarterback with reigning Times News Football Player of the Year Cody Scherer lost to graduation. But head coach Tom McCarroll thinks his replacement is primed for a breakout season of his own.
“Cody Scherer, in my mind, it wasn’t even a question that he was the best player in our league. Hands down,” McCarroll said. “There were some great players, but I knew what he had done in the offseason to stay healthy, to remain healthy, the work he put in. I was excited to see him go-off, which he did.
“We’re excited for that same kind of thing with Chris Whiteman, who is going to step into that quarterback role. I think he’s going to surprise people. Here’s a kid who hasn’t taken a ton of varsity snaps, but he’s played a lot of defense, varsity defensive snaps in big games, and he’s been as reliable as anybody. He’s as smart as anybody I know; he has a super-high football IQ. He’s a great leader, and there’s no doubt in my mind, I think he’s going to be able to surprise.”
Jim Thorpe is a team that won’t sneak up on anyone. The Olympians suffered just two losses a year ago — both to Lehighton — in the regular season finale and in the district semis.
There will be talent to replace, but there is plenty of skill coming back on both sides of the ball, especially on defense, where the “Red Swarm” have become a household name.
“I think we come in with a lot more experience up front,” said Rosenberger. “We return a lot of the linemen on both sides of the ball, so I think that experience will definitely be a benefit for us.”
Tamaqua returns a large chunk of its skill position players, with quarterback Brayden Knoblauch, along with running backs Nate Boyle and Nick Breiner leading the way.
The Blue Raiders will have to replace Thad Zuber and Casey Rother, but have the majority of their offensive and defensive lines coming back that should keep the offense firing on all cylinders.
Northwestern and Marian will be looking to take a step forward, though both did qualify for the postseason last fall. The Tigers made it into the Eastern Conference playoffs, while the Colts qualified for the Class 1A tournament.
“Our guys are coming into camp really excited and ready to go,” said Northwestern head coach Josh Snyder. “Typically, at the beginning of the season our guys are extra hungry to hit and get out there, and we kind of set up the offseason so that our kids aren’t burned out before we get to camp. We want them to be really excited to get out there, and sometimes if you just drill and drill in the offseason kids can already be sick of it. So, we’re ready to go, and we’re ready to work.”
The same can be said for Marian, which made the district playoffs with a sub-.500 record after battling through an injury-plagued season.
“We’re a little thin at the skill positions as far as depth, but these kids have worked hard,” said Colts head coach Pat Morgans. “They’ve been through the ringer. They weren’t happy being 4-7.”
Panther Valley showed promise a year ago under first-year head coach Scott Price, jumping out to a 2-0 start before fading to a 3-7 finish.
“We did what we wanted to do in the offseason,” said Price. “I keep telling our kids, our two-week camp, our heat acclimation and then our camp, it’s not teaching. We don’t teach during camp, we review. And we’ve had such a great turnout all spring and summer, that right now, our camp is going really, really well because we’re just fine-tuning. Everybody knows everything.
“We, as a staff, the players, they’re just ready to go.”
Pleasant Valley will look to improve on last season’s 2-8 finish with first-year head coach Matt Kosciolek at the helm. Kosciolek will have to a find a replacement for TN Quarterback of the Year Aidan McHugh, who transferred out of the program.
Northern Lehigh has been a staple in the postseason in recent years but struggled to an 0-10 finish last fall. Head coach Joe Tout will be looking to get the program back to its winning ways this season.
Below are capsules for all nine area teams containing varsity turnout, practice schedules and scrimmage details. They are listed in alphabetical order.
The season begins Friday, Aug. 24.
Head coach: Mark Rosenberger (21st year)
Varsity turnout: 54
Practice schedule: 7-9:30 a.m.; 12:15-2:45 p.m.
Scrimmage: Saturday, Aug. 18 at Palmerton, 10 a.m.
Head coach: Tom McCarroll (Seventh year)
Varsity turnout: 35
Practice schedule: 8-11 a.m.; 2-5 p.m.
Scrimmage: Saturday, Aug. 18 vs. Catasauqua, 10 a.m.
Head coach: Pat Morgans (Second year)
Varsity turnout: 30
Practice schedule: Monday-Thursday: 8:30-11 a.m.; 12:30-3 p.m.; Friday: 8:30-11 a.m.
Scrimmage: Saturday, Aug. 18 vs. Northern Lehigh, 10 a.m.
Head coach: Joe Tout (13th year)
Varsity turnout: 32
Practice schedule: Monday-Thursday 8:30-10:45 a.m.; 1:15-3:15 p.m.
Scrimmage: Saturday, Aug. 18 at Marian, 10 a.m.
Head coach: Josh Snyder (Seventh year)
Varsity turnout: 48
Practice schedule: (First week of camp) Monday, Wednesday, Friday: 8-11 a.m; Tuesday, Thursday: 8-10:30 a.m.; 12:30-3 p.m.; (Second week of camp) Monday-Thursday: 8-10:30 a.m.; 12:30-3 p.m.; Friday: TBD.
Scrimmage: Saturday, Aug. 18 vs. Pottsville, 10 a.m.
Head coach: Chris Walkowiak (Eighth year)
Varsity turnout: 36
Practice schedule: Monday-Thursday: 6:30-9:30 a.m.; 5:30-7:30 p.m.; Friday 6:30-9:30 a.m.
Scrimmage: Saturday, Aug. 18 vs. Jim Thorpe, 10 a.m.
Head coach: Scott Price (Second year)
Varsity turnout: 31
Practice schedule: Monday-Friday: 3-6 p.m.; 7-10 p.m.
Scrimmage: Saturday, Aug. 18 at Schuylkill Valley, 11 a.m.
Head coach: Matt Kosciolek (First year)
Varsity turnout: 45
Practice schedule: Monday-Friday: 3-6 p.m.
Scrimmage: Saturday, Aug. 18 vs. Whitehall. 10 a.m.
Head coach: Sam Bonner (12th year)
Varsity turnout: 42
Practice schedule: Monday: 8:30-11 a.m.; 2-4:30 p.m.; Tuesday: 8:30-11 a.m.; 1:30-4 p.m.; Wednesday: 10 a.m.-noon; 2-4 p.m.; Thursday: 8:30-10:30 a.m.; 2-4 p.m. Friday: TBD.
Scrimmage: Saturday, Aug. 18 at Hamburg, 10 a.m.
Capsules compiled by Patrick Matsinko and Brad Hurley.