There's something special about the start of a new football season.
What happened last year - good or bad - means little. It's a new year, complete with the optimism and excitement that comes with it.
Youngsville and Sheffield enter 2012 looking to repeat 2011 seasons that ranked among the best in school history. Warren and Eisenhower enter hoping to take the next step in their maturation and build on the foundations of success that were layed a season ago.
Sheffield quarterback Shequan Wright drops back to throw
At long last, the 2012 county football season kicks off Friday evening.
Youngsville (0-0) at Fairview (0-0)
7:30 p.m., Friday, Fairview High School
Youngsville's defense of its first Region 2 championship starts Friday with a non-region contest in Fairview.
Following up the 2011 season will be difficult for the Eagles. The team graduated nine seniors - including quarterback Cory Craig, running back Sam Lucas, leading receiver Dalton Maze and talented linemen Sawyer Dininny, Ryan Rickerson and Stephen Beattie - from a unit that finished the regular season 10-0 and qualified for the District 10 playoffs for the first time since 1994.
While on paper, it looks like a "rebuilding" year of sorts for the Eagles, Youngsville coach Luke Alex remains optimistic as the season opener looms.
"Our backfield remains very strong," said Alex. "Rocco Gatta and Jordan Gurdak are a great mix of speed and power. Our line is completely new, but I think what we lost in power we make up for with speed."
Junior Jake Marino will take over the signal calling duties in 2012. Marino did see time in relief of Craig a year ago, but attempted just one pass. Rocco Gatta and Jordan Gurdak return as primary weapons in the backfield. Gurdak amassed 707 rushing yards and seven touchdowns last season while Gatta rushed for 166 yards and two scores and caught 17 passes for 209 yards and four touchdowns.
Fairview enters the season hoping to improve on a difficult 1-8 season in 2011. The Class AA Tigers are on the Eagles' schedule for the first time since they were region opponents in 2005.
The Tigers lost top runner Dan Rosendahl and his 890 yards and six touchdowns to graduation. All-region second-team all-star Joe Kocan and his 336 yards and three scores have also moved on.
Despite those losses, the Tigers do have a great deal of experience returning to the field in 2012. The offensive and defensive lines return all but intact and sophomore Ben Kocan has a year of experience under his belt. Kocan completed 18-of-32 passes as a freshman, but the Tigers did record a touchdown pass through the air in 2011.
Last meeting: October 21, 2005- at Fairview High School- Fairview 42, Youngsville 0
2011 Eagles Leaders: Passing- Cory Craig 50 of 109 for 1,069, 15 TD, 4 INT; Rushing- Sam Lucas 96 for 744, 13 TD; Receiving- Dalton Maze 20 for 527, 7 TD
Warren (0-0) at
Erie East (0-0),
7 p.m., Friday,
Erie Veterans Stadium
Warren enters the new year looking to get back to the basics - running the football and stopping the run defensively.
If running the ball doesn't work during Friday's opener with Erie East at Erie Veterans Stadium, the Dragons do have a potent air attack that could come in handy. Senior quarterback Austin Jerman is approaching several Warren career passing records and is coming off a season in which he threw for 2,214 yards and 20 touchdowns.
While Jerman lost his top target in Nathan Zigler, he will have reliable targets in Mark Davis (35 catches, 550 yards, 9 TD in 2011) and Jordan Willetts (27 for 438, 2 TD) against the Warriors on Friday.
Still, it's the running game that Warren coach Brad Wright wants to see improve in 2012.
"It's going to be extremely critical to stop the run against East," said Wright. I think during our scrimmage with Fairview we showed a lot of ability in stopping the rushing attack. I also think our run game will benefit us offensively this season. I anticipate a lot of second and third and shorts and that we can convert more consistently on third down."
After a historic 2011 season in which the team advanced all the way to the District 10 Class AAA semifinals, the Warriors will feature a young squad after losing many stars to graduation. Among those lost were defensive standout Levonte Ford (187 tackles, four sacks) and talented running back Anthony Jordan. Jordan amassed over 1,300 all-purpose yards in 2011 and reached the end zone 16 times.
Some key pieces of the puzzle do return for Erie East. Quarterback Jauwan Ford will try to improve on a season in which he passed for 939 yards and 12 touchdowns. Running back Anthony Gates also returns after gaining 110 yards and scoring four touchdowns last season.
Last meeting: September 9, 2011- at War Memorial Field- Erie East 50, Warren 15
2011 Dragons Leaders: Passing- Austin Jerman 146 of 237 for 2,214, 20 TD, 7 INT; Rushing- Chris McNeal 37 for 150, 2 TD; Receiving- Nathan Zigler 51 for 722, 6 TD
Mercer (0-0) at
7 p.m., Friday, Eisenhower High School
An old District 10 playoff rivalry will be reborn Friday when the Eisenhower Knights host the Mercer Mustangs at "The Pasture of Pain." If everything goes according to plan, coach Jim Penley's Knights will end the 2012 season back in the postseason after a two-year absence.
After an 0-10 season in 2010, Eisenhower improved greatly in 2011 and was in playoff contention until the final week of the season. Penley hopes his team will continue to show the improvement began in 2011 and will be rewarded with a trip to the playoffs.
"We need to finish games this season," said Penley. "We had three really good wins late in games last year, but also suffered three big losses. Our guys have made improvements and are certainly more experienced this season. If we finish plays and finish games like we're capable, I think we're going to have a very nice year."
Many of Eisenhower's offensive skill position weapons are back in the mix this season. Quarterback Aaron Lundmark settled in nicely during the 2011 campaign and threw for nearly 600 yards and seven touchdowns. Despite missing large parts of the year due to injury, tailback John Pascuzzi still rushed for 731 yards and four touchdowns for the Knights. Leading receiver Nathan O'Brien and his 17 catches for 242 yards and two touchdowns also return.
After a heavy exodus of seniors, the Mustangs may be in rebuilding mode for the 2012 season. The team lost not one, but two 1,000-yard rushers in Kyle Mariacher and Joe Hess, as well as starting quarterback Alec Gawne. Perhaps no loss is as big as Mariacher who rushed for 2,314 yards and 33 touchdowns last season alone. He graduated as Mercer's all-time leading rusher.
Mercer has few starters to rely upon as the new year begins. Nate Brest is an all-region first-team offensive lineman who returns and he will be called on to anchor an inexperienced line that tries to plow the road for a bevy of new skill position players.
Last meeting: November 9, 2007- at Wilmington High School- District 10 playoffs- Mercer 14, Eisenhower 7
2011 Knights Leaders: Passing- Aaron Lundmark 36 of 84 for 588, 7 TD, 7 INT; Rushing- John Pascuzzi 115 for 731, 4 TD; Receiving- Nathan O'Brien 17 for 242, 2 TD
Sheffield (0-0) at
7 p.m., Friday,
Kane Area High School
For both the Sheffield Wolverines and Kane Wolves, Friday's 2012 season opener signals the start of a new era.
After guiding the Wolverines to a 4-7 record and their first District 9 Class AA playoff appearance in school history, Sheffield's Bryan Gould resigned and returned to his hometown of Blairsville in July.
Just up the road in Kane, veteran coach Jason Barner - himself a Sheffield graduate - resigned as the Wolves head man in December in order to spend more time with his family.
Sheffield's Dave Fitch and Kane's Todd Silfies will take over their respective programs, beginning Friday.
The Wolverines do have some holes to fill after the departure of leading rusher Nick Bonavita, George Fitch and two-time PIAA track & field champion Kalil Slaughter among others. One key piece that does return is quarterback Shequan Wright who threw for well over 700 yards a season ago.
Despite the loss of many key pieces of the playoff team, Fitch believes his group has the ability to capitalize on the team's success from last season.
"The guys have picked up the new formations and plays very nicely during preseason," said Fitch. "They learn quickly and have bonded well as a team. Those qualities along with their ability to work hard have me very optimistic about the coming season."
Kane will have to replace two starters on the offensive and defensive lines, but has all of its skill position leaders back for their senior seasons.
Quarterback Sean Jordan (62 of 114 for 846, 5 TD, 8 INT), running back Jonah Smith (117 for 601, 8 TD) and receiver Sean Rolick (22 for 328, 3 TD) are all back in the mix as Kane and Silfies try to improve on a 4-5 mark from the 2011 season.
Last meeting: September 19, 2009- at Sheffield Area High School- Kane 23, Sheffield 12
2011 Wolverines Leaders: Passing- Shequan Wright 52 of 127, 723, 4 TD, 15 INT; Rushing- Nick Bonavita 117 for 666, 7 TD; Receiving- Evan Jamison 14 for 189