Season Preview: Unionville kicks off tonight

Indians open season against neighboring Garnet Valley once again with state playoff hopes, despite relative youth

By Mike McGann, Editor,

After missing all but two games in 2010, Richard Sampson looks to add some explosiveness to the Indians' 2011 backfield.

EAST MARLBOROUGH — Expectations.

Less than a decade ago, the following words might have been impossible to imagine when it comes to Unionville High School football: “Coming off a mildly disappointing seven-win season.”

Time was, a 7-3 record would have been cause for celebration rather than a sign of just missing the mark for the Indians. But in the Pat Clark era, the standard of excellence has been raised: division titles, state playoff runs and even undefeated seasons are now the most typical pre-season goal.

Unionville kicks off its 2011 season tonight at rival Garnet Valley, once again harboring lofty goals.

“We want to win our league and get into the state playoffs,” Clark said, simply stating the now typical pre-season goal for his team.

And as has been the case since Clark took over the coaching reigns, his Indians again appear primed to back up those goals, although as usual, it will require some younger players to step up into key roles. Only 11 seniors will suit up for Unionville in 2011, making it a young but surprisingly experienced team.

Junior Tom Pancoast takes over at quarterback for Unionville, after starting on defense as a sophomore in 2010.

Maybe the most visible will be junior Tom Pancoast who takes over at quarterback for the graduated Connor Gades. But, unlike a lot of new starters, Pancoast is no stranger either to starting or getting varsity snaps at under center. He was a key starter as a defensive back in 2010 and got precious time at QB in games when the Indians were able to build big leads.

Clark said he thinks both of those things will be a big help for the 6-3, 170-pound junior.

“He won’t be shellshocked by the speed of the game,” Clark said. “He knows what to expect.”

Another Unionville player stepping into big shoes is senior Matt Maggitti, who will take a up a lot of the slack for the graduated Mason Popham. If Popham, a small but rugged runner, was like a Jeep Wrangler, Maggitti is more like a Hummer — same idea, but bigger and maybe even stronger, Clark said. At 5-11, 195 pounds, Maggitti has about 50 pounds on his former backfield mate — even if both share the same sort of bruising running mentality.

“I think he might be the strongest kid we’ve had, in terms of the weight room,” since I’ve been here. “He’s worked unbelievably hard.”

And if Magitti is going to be the thunder in the Indians’ backfield, Richard Sampson is going to be lightning. Moving in from wide receiver, after injuries cut short what looked to be a break out season 2010, Sampson looks to add explosive speed to what should be a potent running attack. At 6-2, 195, he has 4.4 speed in the 40 and his receiver background should make him dangerous as a runner and a receiver in the flat. Before getting hurt, he returned a pair of kickoffs for touchdowns in 2010 in just two games.

But it won’t be all ground game — Clark likes to air it out and suggests this year might offer more in terms of big-play offense. There’s a lot of depth and experience at receiver, with senior Doug Ott leading a talented group that includes fellow senior Ross Kim-McManus and junior Tim Christopher.

“We’re definitely a faster team,” Clark said.

While offense tends to get the headlines, Clark said he knows that it’s defense that tends to decide how good his teams perform. And while the 2011 edition of the Indians defense is young, it’s fairly experienced.

Defensive end Jimmy Gill, a senior, looks to anchor a skilled defensive line.

“I think Jimmy Gill might be one of the better defensive ends in area,” Clark said.

But with a young unit, growing pains tend to come with the territory.

“Our inexperienced kids are going to have to grow up fast,” Clark said. “If we don’t give away points, we’ll be in every game.”

And that defense will be put to the test right away against the rugged option offense of Garnet Valley, part of a tough start to the schedule that seems to confront the Indians every year.

The Jaguars won last season on a last-second play — and the matchup between the neighboring rivals almost always seems to set the tone for the remainder of the season. With tough early match ups including Frankford (of Philadelphia), Avon Grove, West Chester Rustin and Coatesville in the opening five games could make or break the 2011 Indians. Rustin and Unionville appear to be early favorites to win the Ches-Mont American Division — so that Sept. 23 game could be the difference between a division title and state playoff berth.

“The opening schedule is tough,” Clark said. “We really need to get out of those games 4-1, 3-2, that’s the reality. You’d like to talk about going undefeated, but that’s a tough task with the quality of opponents there.”

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