By Matt Popchock
When “Mr. High School Sports” talked to Ron Polinsky last fall, the refrain was usually the same: “We’re young.”
It was perhaps the best explanation–or at least the most diplomatic one–available to a team that only won twice in 2010 and missed an opportunity to sneak into the WPIAL postseason in Week 9, getting its doors blown off at Hollidaysburg.
The Trojans are still young. But now they’ve also got some fresh blood on the sidelines that may give them new life.
New head coach Al Gaiardo is best known for having re-established the program at St. Vincent College. Derry, unlike St. Vincent, has not been dormant on the gridiron for any period of time, though it could certainly benefit from a reboot of sorts. The Trojans have only enjoyed two playoff appearances since the turn of the century (2001 and 2009), and 2011 will see them struggle to make it back.
Talon Kriebel, who was one of the most productive quarterbacks in Class AAA last season, has graduated. The good news is junior Josh Boggio gained some experience under center while Kriebel was concussed for part of the 2010 campaign, though he completed just 13 of 36 attempts for 240 yards and two TD’s against four interceptions, also scrambling seven times for 29 yards.
Old school western PA football may be the best way for Derry to try and alleviate its offensive woes while Boggio develops. The Trojans managed just 16.1 points per game last year, ending up sixth from the bottom of the classification, but their backfield has a little bit of depth, at least. Senior Jordan Randall finished second on the team with 322 rush yards on 103 carries in 2010, senior fullback Colin Greene showed promise with 99 yards and two scores on 38 attempts, and junior Josh Wannamaker may see some action too.
But we would be derelict in duty if we didn’t give some love to the hogs. Center Zack Wisneski made first team All-Keystone Conference in 2010 as a junior, and he’s in good company in the trenches. Senior Adam Nicely and junior Dan Barkhamer are back, and big Jacob Kirkpatrick can also provide good protection for Boggio.
When Boggio does get comfy enough in the pocket that Derry throws the ball consistently, he’ll have options. Losing top two receivers Bobby Shorthouse and Ron Nicely definitely hurts, but senior Blake Pakos can be a deep threat. In addition, junior Tyler Matusak seems poised for a breakout year after catching 15 balls for 137 yards last year (he’ll resume kicking duties too), while Wannamaker caught three passes out of the backfield totaling 59 yards.
What will it all mean? Not much, if the Trojans don’t shore up a defense that was, to put it bluntly, a sieve for much of the 2010 season. They allowed 32.7 points per game, the fifth-most in Class AAA. Like the offense, their main concern was execution, which, hopefully for Gaiardo’s sake, will be improved with some familiar faces returning. Wisneski can obviously move mountains, Pakos will be a presence in the secondary, and senior Adam Nicely will anchor the linebackers.
Once again, there’s a lot coming back. But the sharpness of the learning curve remains to be seen.
Franklin Regional and Ringgold are once again expected to be the flag-bearers of the conference, with Greensburg-Salem being the wild card. The most practical goal for Derry, in the meantime, would appear to be simply matching last year’s win total, at the very least, and going from there, as Gaiardo slowly drums up interest in the program and builds much-needed depth.
Better days may lie ahead for the Trojans, but getting Derry out of the doldrums won’t happen overnight.
(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)