2016 features plenty of intrigue for local teams

It’s time to strap on the chin straps and play for real.

After two weeks of practices and one scrimmage, Eisenhower and Youngsville will get their regular seasons underway tonight, while Warren and Sheffield kick off on Saturday.

There is no shortage of stories as the 2016 season kicks off, so let’s jump right in.

How good can Eisenhower be?

There was plenty of optimism as the Knights broke camp, and for good reason. A majority of the line on both sides returns John Hummel, John Bortz, Ryan Schnars and Hunter McNutt, as do a plethora of skill players.

The big change will be at quarterback, where junior Spencer Head takes over for brother Louie, who passed for over 1,000 yards and ran for more than 800 in 2015. Penley described Spencer as a very good distributor and he will certainly have plenty of talent to distribute to.

Running back Adam Pascuzzi and fullback Byron Braswell return, combining for nearly 900 yards rushing last season. They will get to run behind that experienced offensive line which should provide plenty of holes.

The receivers are what turn the Knights from a good offense into potentially a dangerous one.

Spencer Gray, Jaydon Hayes and Thomas Warren all return, with Warren lining up as the tight end. At 6-5, 6-3 and 6-2, they not only will be able to create plenty of matchup problems, but also provide plenty of starting experience from the Knights’ playoff team last season.

Defensively, its most of the same faces, but also including Matt Huling and Jonah Samuelson.

Last year’s playoff run was short, ending with a loss to eventual state runner-up Farrell. This group won’t have to deal with that Steeler team, which remains at 1A (the Knights are 2A), but they do have a challenging new slate in Region 3.

Nevertheless, they have the potential to turn a lot of heads this season.

How will things shake out at Youngsville?

It’s not a huge secret that the Eagles’ numbers are down from a year ago. Unfortunately, it’s a problem that many small schools must face on a yearly basis, but nevertheless not easy.

Coach Andy Chase has highlighted his group’s strong leadership and work ethic, led by the likes of senior Brady Kesterholt. Those are strengths they will have to lean on this season.

Sometimes when a program finds itself in a less than advantageous position, it’s those very qualities and the types of young men with those qualities that help turn things around for the better.

The Eagles schedule is not an easy one with the likes of Eisenhower, Seneca, Farrell, West Middlesex and Cambridge Springs, but it also provides plenty of opportunity.

I for one am excited to see what they can accomplish.

How will Warren’s transition

be to the new Region 5?

The Dragons return from hiatus (the south) and are back where they belong in my opinion. Not from a competitive standpoint, because I think playing the Hickory’s and Sharon’s of the world can make you a lot better. What I’m referring to is a schedule that includes traditional rivals Meadville, Franklin, Oil City, Bradford and Titusville in 2016.

There is plenty to replace, starting at the quarterback position, where sophomore Jake Kupchella takes the reigns from the graduated Evan Suppa. That means plenty of opportunity for the young players, but there could be some growing pains along the way.

One of the keys will be getting all that young talent to gel. There is potential, no doubt, and I’m curious to see which players will take on the leadership roles that are necessary for a team to succeed.

Can Sheffield and the AML North get momentum?

It’s common knowledge that the AML South Ridgway, Curwensville, Brockway, Elk County Catholic, Kane and now Bradford has had the upper hand over the North Sheffield, Cameron County, Port Allegany, Coudersport, Smethport and Otto-Eldred in recent years. The last time the North really had bragging rights was in 2012, when the record-setting Port Allegany offense made it all the way to the state semifinals before falling to now-Bengals receiver Tyler Boyd and Clairton.

The Wolverines struggled in 2015, but do return some key players in the form of Mason Albaugh, Cameron Retterer, Drew Higby, Nick Knowles, Gabe Donato and Cale Albaugh. Also look for an influx of talent from Abraxas, as the Wolverines aim to get on the winning track.

A test will come right away on Saturday in Elk County Catholic and a strong performance could pave the way for a much different outcome in 2016.