Coming off 9-2 season, Unionville looks to specialization to take things up another notch
By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times
As Unionville High School seeks to improve upon a powerful 2011 season, head coach Pat Clark has decided there’s “one” way to take his squad to another level:
Have his players go only one way — specialize only on offense or defense, instead of playing on both sides of the ball. As pro and college football teams discovered long ago, it offers two benefits: fresher players in the fourth quarter and more practice work for the first offense and defense, often against each other.
2012 Season Preview
Typically, high school teams struggle to have enough depth to make it work. For 2012, though, the Indians appear to have enough talent to make it possible. Obviously, Clark said, there will be times when injuries or match ups change that, and a handful of Unionville players may have to play on both sides of the ball at times, but he’s hoping to limit it.
“It’s really been beneficial for us,” Clark said. “It’s given more kids an opportunity. We have a kid who can now focus on one side of the ball, and I think it makes your typical high school football player that much better.”
With most players only playing on one side of the ball, Clark said, the team has been able to focus on doing the little things right, and avoid the sort of mistakes that, at times, made last season more dramatic than he might have preferred. It also means more time to practice situations — and that means less times when a player is on the field seeing something they haven’t covered in practice.
The Indians, who posted a 9-2 record last season, which ended with a first-round playoff loss to Neshaminy, lose some key players to graduation such as star running back Richard Sampson, now looking to get serious playing time at Coastal Carolina as a true freshman and Doug Ott, who made Navy’s squad as a walk-on.
But a number of key players from the 2011 season are back, including starting quarterback Tom Pancoast and a core of seniors with game experience.
“We have a decent number of kids back who have that playoff experience and I think we’re in a good place,” Clark said. “I like what we have on the lines on both sides of the ball, Tommy Pancoast is back at quarterback, we’re figuring out our skill guys on offense and defense.”
One interesting addition to the receiving corps: senior Unionville basketball standout Patch Johnson is suiting up literally for the first time since middle school and could be a a player to watch. Sean Barnes — the Indians’ kicker last season — should move into more of a featured role in the passing game, along with fellow senior Stephen Rosenberg, while juniors Jared Fortunato and David Daly figure to be in the mix.
Senior Brad Pechin, a key reserve last season on offense, looks to lead a group of runners hoping to replace Sampson’s prolific 2011 production.
“All those kids have either varsity game experience on offense or special teams experience,” Clark said.
And that is part of the Unionville system. Younger players get time in one area before moving into a prime time spot, to get game experience as underclassmen. Clark cited Pancoast as an example, the senior QB played strictly on defense as a freshman and sophomore, and had no need to adjust to the speed of the varsity game when he went under the center full time last season.
“We’ve been able to plug kids into spots who have that varsity experience, that game speed is so critical,” Clark said. “The quicker you get kids to play at that speed, the better off your program is going to be.”
After a season of last-minute comebacks and dramatic wins, Clark said he thinks that could be the new normal, as his Indians face a tough non-league schedule and an improving Ches-Mont American Division schedule. With the normal Unionville goal of winning the division and making the state playoffs, West Chester Rustin in particular seems to present an obstacle. Last season, the Indian’s only regular season loss came at the hands of the Knights, a rugged 21-14 loss and with it when the division title hopes.
“We’re going to have to beat Rustin,” Clark said. “Every game on our schedule is important. Our non-league schedule is pretty challenging. We play Rustin week 4 and that’s a really important game for us in terms of the league championship. This might be the toughest schedule we’ve had here in nine years.”
Including the always difficult opening five games — which includes Souderton — the Indians open against arch-rival and neighbor Garnet Valley, and have tough games against Avon Grove, powerful Coatesville and Rustin. If they survive that gauntlet, they then have to battle division foes — all on the rise, such as Oxford, Great Valley and Kennett.
The Indians kick off the 2012 season, Friday night at home against Garnet Valley. Game time is 7 p.m.