UHS Football 2015: Getting back to its roots

Indians to feature stout defense, return to focus on power running, ball-control

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times


Seniors Sam Gangel (65) and Dylan Rappucci (6) will lead an experienced returning group on defense for Unionville in 2015.

You may have heard of throw-back Thursday on Facebook and other social media outlets, but for the Unionville High School football team, 2015 looks to be an entire throwback year.

Based on the powerful history of the program of the last decade-plus, rest assured that’s a good thing. A really good thing.

About the only thing not to be old school for the Indians, coming off a frustrating six-win season, will be new uniforms — sharp new gold jerseys will replace the old navy blue home jerseys, while the road whites get new gold accents — otherwise, expect something of a throwback to the late aughts.

Instead of depending on a handful of exceptional players — a trend started a few years back with Richard Sampson, through Tom Pancoast to Alex Pechin (to name just a few) — the Indians will feature a large core (including 22 seniors) of solid, lunch-bucket type players, harkening back to the teams of five or six years ago that were among the program’s most successful ever.

“This team reminds me of the ’09 team that went up to Pennsbury and beat them in the playoffs,” Unionville Head Coach Pat Clark said. “There are a lot of similarities.”

And for those of you who worried that Clark had been recently channeling the ghost of Don Coryell (mastermind of explosive 1970s passing offenses), figure on seeing a return to the old Indians’ style power offense, three (or more) yards and cloud of FieldTurf rubber pellets.

One other thing that hasn’t changed: the expectation that the Indians will battle for the ChesMont American Division title and a berth in the District One playoffs. With West Chester Rustin reloaded, an always tough Great Valley team continuing to improve and an Avon Grove squad on the rise, once again it will be a battle.


Senior Brandon Boon looks to build off a strong 2014 campaign in 2015 as the Indians’ featured back.

A tough start of the schedule — opening Friday night against neighboring rival Garnet Valley — features home matchups with Exeter and Avon Grove before a pair of brutal road games, Rustin and ChesMont National Division powerhouse Downingtown East.

“This may be the toughest schedule to open we’ve had since I got here,” said Clark, who has run the program since the 2005 season.

While last year’s offense — behind Division I talents like Pechin and Andrew Jones — could be explosive at times, racking up points in some games, it was also mistake-prone, turning the ball over and putting the defense in tough spots. This year’s team, Clark says, expects to cut down on mistakes and play in a steadier, more ball-control style.

While the star power may not seem as obvious for the 2015 Indians, the team will feature a number of impact players, starting with Navy commit Elan Nash, one of the region’s top receivers and defensive backs. The senior — who has seen varsity playing time since his freshman year — will lead a potentially explosive receiving corps with Tyler Marmo, another senior receiver, and tight end Pat Clark, Jr., the coach’s son, a 6-3, 230 physical specimen who may also see time at offensive tackle and will be the team’s punter. Senior Mark Knightly looks to get serious time at tight end, as well.

Although there were a few questions about who would play where — the quarterback battle between seniors Jason Hagen and Brendan Boyle wasn’t settled until after the final scrimmage with Boyle holding a slight edge. Both figure to see a lot of playing time in various roles, as Hagen is a better pure thrower and Boyle has experience at running back, giving Clark maximum flexibility. Expect to see a lot of both players.

Senior running back Brandon Boon will again be the featured back, coming off a strong 2014 campaign.


Senior Elan Nash is one of the area’s top defensive backs and a dangerous weapon at receiver on offense.

The offensive line looks to be solid as well, even with the loss of Jones, a four-year starter at center. Anchored at tackle by the towering Sean Green, 6-6, 235, junior Matt Dauphin takes over at center. A couple of defensive line veterans, seniors Sam Gangel and Thomas Mallon, will be added to the mix as well. Asger Hansen, another senior tackle, should also be part of the rotation.

It does mean, Clark said, that for the first time in a while, a number of starters will play both offense and defense.

“We have 10 to 12 guys to play offensive and defensive line,” Clark said. “And some of those guys are going to have to play both ways.”

While offense has drawn the headlines for the Indians in recent seasons, it will be the defense this year that likely garners much of the focus. It’s a defense that brings back a number of starters — players who learned under fire in 2014 as a young group — and appear ready to emerge as one of the area’s top units.

Along with Gangel and Mallon up front and Nash in the backfield, linebackers Laz Kirifides, a senior, Dylan Rappucci, a senior, and Trevor Gardiner, a junior, return at linebacker. Senior Drew Stradling will be back at defensive back as well.

Clark did point to a couple of new key defensive players, junior linebacker Jesse Gill and sophomore free safety Joe Zubillaga, as likely to make an impact on the team this season. Other new names to watch for include junior DE/FB Bryce McManus, junior CB Zach Nance, and sophomore OT Pablo Aviles-Bernal.

Although many programs would celebrate a six-win season — a little more than a decade ago in Unionville it would have been seen as a big year — the Indians see it as a down season, after years of eight or more wins, league titles and District One playoff berths. A return to that status is what Clark seeks and sees good signs in terms of the future of the program, too.

“We have 90 kids in the program now,” Clark said. “That’s up about 20 kids from last year. We’re able to field a freshman team for the first time in a number of years, meaning our young players will get a lot more game experience.”

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