Next week brings the Friday night high school football fans have been waiting for since last season ended.
The area’s four public schools open their campaigns under the lights, with Lackawanna Football Conference (LFC) division II schools Mid Valley and Lakeland hosting Hanover Area and GAR, respectively. Valley View heads to Wallenpaupack in a LFC division I tilt while Carbondale Area visits Montrose in an LFC division III contest.
Mid Valley begins a new era with a familiar face as Dave Rebar, a standout lineman who led the Spartans to Suburban Conference glory, has taken over as head coach at his alma mater. Rebar, who also coached at Riverside, replaces the retired Frank Pazzaglia.
“Getting back to Mid Valley and being with coach Pazzaglia was a great experience, and I want to build on what he did,” Rebar said. “I think we’ll be pretty competitive this year.
Returning two-way starters Tyler Collins, Justin Craven, Tom Davis and Joe Palickar are joined by fellow seniors Chad Marushock, a guard, and quarterback Martin Walsh to head up Rebar’s first year in charge at Mid Valley.
“Everything that I learned [under other coaches] was always about consistency. You can yell, you can scream, you can be quiet, but whatever you do, just be consistent,” Rebar said. “If we’re very consistent with our players, and let them know in advance what we expect, they’ve got to get it done.”
Few starters are back for Lakeland, which has left head coach Jeff Wasilchak with much to sort out during recent “two-a-day” practices.
“[We have] a lot of questions, not a whole lot of answers. We have some solid kids back … we have a lot of spots to fill,” Wasilchak said. “We’ll see who steps up.”
The leaders are expected to be returning two-way starters Gavin O’Donnell, a senior split end-linebacker, and junior flanker-cornerback Josh Natale. Seniors Chris Roche, a tailback, center A.J. Wormuth and cornerback Brian Bylotas are also back for the Chiefs, who will find out soon where they stand.
The question, Wasilchak said, is “how long it takes for guys to get comfortable, how long it takes for guys to get their feet wet. Some guys are going to get a baptism of fire; we’ll see how it comes along.”
There are some doubts at Valley View, where graduation dealt a severe blow, but coach George Howanitz believes the program he has will keep producing a steady flow of talent.
“It’s a tough prognosis. We have a lot of new kids playing, but I think we have a good nucleus of kids coming back,” Howanitz said. “I’ve been telling everyone, we could be really good, or we could be really bad. There are a lot of question marks we have to answer and hopefully our kids will do that early and we’ll be fine. The last three, four years, we’ve had a good group of seniors that have graduated and the underclassmen have done a really good job of picking up where they’ve left off. I wouldn’t expect anything less from these kids and I think they’ll be fine.”
The Cougars defense will be built around senior returning starting linebackers Nate Santarelli and Jose Figueroa. Junior tackle Zach Venesky and senior tight end Alec Sebastianelli head up an offense that could get a boost by sophomore back Scot Wasilchak.
Carbondale’s bid for success will rest upon a veteran defense, which has six seniors and one junior returning starters back, led by linemen Kevin Ormes, Isaiah McCord and Matt Stinnard; linebackers Tim Mantis and Brian Lavolpe; and cornerbacks Ricky Jones and junior Brad Sales.
“Defense will be our strength of our football team,” Chargers head coach Larry Gabriel III said. “We felt we were solid against the run last year; we have to get better at our pass rush game, and putting a little heat on the quarterback. We forced teams into a lot of third-and-longs, but we gave up a lot of third-down conversions, so that’s an area of emphasis.”
The large graduating class left the offense with just three experienced starters: tackle McCord, senior wide receiver Jason Martin and junior tight end Chris Larson.
“The faster our offense comes along, the faster we’ll be competitive,” Gabriel said. “Offensively, we know we have to get our foot on the gas pedal the second we step foot on the field, because we really have no time to wait. In order for us to be competitive, we have to be ready right from week one.”