Offensive should be potent again, defense needs experience
By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times
EAST MARLBOROUGH — Is it experience or sheer talent that trumps when it comes to high school football?
We may get an answer to that age-old question with this year’s Unionville High School Football team — coming off yet another playoff berth in 2013, but returning just 11 seniors for 2014. Another concern: long-time Unionville defensive coordinator Harry O’Neill is now the head coach at Avon Grove, meaning new faces on the the sideline guiding a young defense.
What hasn’t changed: the expectation that the Indians will contend for the Ches-Mont American Division title and battle for a third straight berth in the district playoffs.
Unionville opens the 2014 campaign hosting neighbor and rival Garnet Valley Friday night. Kickoff is 7 p.m.
Still, it seems unlikely that many will feel to sorry for the Indians (8-3 in 2013, after a playoff loss at Neshaminy ended their season) or veteran head coach Pat Clark.
“Our team has enough talent to compete for a league title,” Clark said. “The quicker the new players mature, the better off we will be. I like our senior leadership and poise.”
The seniors who return are a pretty elite group. Start with quarterback Alex Pechin, who could be the best at his position in Chester County this year — and arguably also the county’s best kicker and punter, too. Pechin threw and ran for more than 2,000 yards last year, as Unionville opened up its usually run-oriented offense to take advantage of Pechin’s arm. Clark describes him (he’s also a star baseball pitcher) as among “the most multi-talented athletes in southeast Pennsylvania).
“Alex Pechin will be at the center of the offense and we hope to have the same kind of balance that we had last year,” Clark said.
Along with Pechin, up front four-year starter Andrew Jones is at center — again, another guy who may be tops at his position in the county. Smart, tough and possessing the mean streak needed in a good offensive line, Jones will again anchor that should be a solid unit in 2014.
“Andrew might be the top offensive lineman at Unionville over the last 10 years,” Clark said, saying he deserves mention along ex-Indian, and Division I recruit Steve Caputo among the program’s elite offensive linemen during his tenure at the school. “Technically he is outstanding, and he is very physical.”
Another returnee up front is senior Paul Steffy — a three-year starter — who brings a game much like Jones, tough, smart and experienced, Clark said. Junior Sean Green, who started several games as a sophomore, is back. Senior Justin Berry, juniors Jack Bacciellieri and Asger Hansen, and sophomore Matt Dauphin also figure to see playing time, giving Unionville depth and options up front.
At running back, Austin Hofman-Readon returns, after being a key part of the offense in 2013, behind the now-graduated Garrett Scargill and Dom DiBiaggio.
As has been typical during the Clark era at Unionville, at least one if not more underclass running backs are worked into the game plan, earning experience and yards, and the bruising (6-0, 195) Hofman-Reardon earned his spurs — 9 touchdowns in 2013 — and now seems ready to take on the featured back work load in 2014. Brandon Boon — who also saw varsity time in 2013 — will complement him in the backfield. Junior Mark Knightly and sophomore Bryce Mcmanus will add depth — and earn key varsity experience this season.
Receiver should be solid as well. The explosive Elan Nash (5-11, 185) — still just a junior — brings explosive speed and the ability to stretch the field. Brendan Boyle, who battled through injuries in 2013, but played a number of roles, including time at quarterback, looks to add smarts, toughness and good in-game instincts at receiver. Senior Brody Fitzgerald is expected to see time there as well. At tight end senior Tim Zeidman and junior Pat Clark, Jr., the coach’s son, will both play.
The defense will be a bit more of a new-look outfit, but even there some multi-year starters return to anchor the unit.
Senior linebackers Michael Weber (6’1, 210) and Quinn Cheyney (6’1 225), both three-year starters lead a defense that blends a few experienced veterans with a number of new faces.
Nash — who emerged as a shut down corner in 2013 is back, and looks to be a Division I prospect — is back to man the defensive backfield, along with senior Tommy Singleton, who saw a lot of varsity time in 2013 as a backup, looks to be the other starter. Jones and Seffi — both of whom have deep experience on the line, return as well.
Beyond those six, Clark said, are talented but inexperienced players.
“While we have a lot of talent, we need game experience,” he said.
Juniors Sam Gangel and Thomas Mallon will compete for playing time. Sophomores Matt Dauphin and Mike Cresta will also be in the rotation on the defensive line.
Juniors Laz Kirifides and Dylan Rappucci, look to start at outside linebacker, with sophomores Trevor Gardiner and Shane Jones, providing depth as backups.
In the secondary, juniors Tyler Marmo Drew Stradling and Max Camateros-Mann will see time. Also senior Ian Larsen (a star wrestler at Unionville) has joined the team and will contribute at defensive back.
Special teams should be a strength, behind the very strong leg of Pechin — who kicked a pair of field goals from beyond 40 yards and possesses a booming leg for punts.
Still, with a tough league — and a tough non-conference schedule, Garnet Valley (the no. 1 seed in District 1 in 2013) and Exeter (8-2 in 2013), both playoff teams in 2013, mean there will be no “off” weeks for the Indians — who look to battle perennial power West Chester Rustin (Ches-Mont American title winners four of the last five seasons) and an emerging Great Valley program for the league title.