Anti-Poll #1: The “Bigger Schools” (AAAA & AAA)
It’s the debut of the RCN Sports Talk Anti-Poll! This poll is RCN TV’s response for satisfying your desire to rank high school football teams without all the stress and anxiety created by a rigid numerical ranking list.
This week, we will look at the bigger schools in the RCN viewing area (the AAAA- and AAA-classed schools) and provide insights on the teams I’ve been able to gather information on. As always, your feedback, opinions and criticisms are most welcome.
Here are the first week’s listings, in quasi-order:
HEAD OF THE CLASS
EASTON – I was not surprised that EASTON defeated Parkland in the Lehigh Valley Conference opener, but I was absolutely shocked at the score! I had attended both teams’ practices and noted a ton of similarities, including depth at the skilled positions, lots of size, athletic linemen, upbeat yet intense practice sessions, etc. The one thing that appeared to distinguish the teams was that the Rover players I spoke with clearly identified their specific weaknesses from last year that they needed to improve upon. They were also focused on working on those areas for this season. I would have predicted an Easton 10-7 or 14-13 score with the defense playing a huge role; however, I never envisioned a 17-0 start and a 24-0 whitewash. I’ve asked quite a few people to point out to me the weaknesses with this year’s Easton team and very little has been uncovered. Quarterback Brad Wilkins seems very poised with outstanding abilities to lead his team to greater heights. Guys like senior linebacker Justin Best are underrated and quietly do an outstanding job—qualities shared by many Rovers this season. If they can keep any off-the-field issues at bay, I think it’s clear that the Rovers are the favorites to contend for league and district title honors.
WHITEHALL – WHITEHALL also surprised me in that they seemed to have a number of weapons but didn’t employ many of them against Liberty … but when you have Saquon Barkley running for touchdowns of 33, 41, 47 and 50 years, I guess there was no reason to. I think they’ll be quite a bit of different Zephyr heroes this fall. Whitehall’s offensive and defensive lines, presumably a weakness at the season’s outset because of their youth, look to be in mid-season form. I think any battle between Whitehall against Easton or Parkland could have major playoff implications this season. Don’t be surprised if things don’t stay vanilla and we see some “wildcat” formations, lots of fake punts and the like.
PARKLAND – I would also keep PARKLAND in this category. For the second straight year, they started off the LVC season facing the pre-season favorites of the RCN Sports Talk team. They quite possibly could go on another run culminating with a district championship and state playoff appearance. One could argue that this year’s Trojans are actually better than last year’s team, with a tandem quarterback combination and an extra year of experience for their returning players. Eli Redmond and Kareem Williams have returned in the backfield, with Najee Redmond replacing Jarel Elder’s spot. Many of the standout defensive stalwarts like Nezar & Omar Haddad, and David Barber and company are back. I believe in Legend Boyesen’s confidence and think he will be a major playmaker by the end of this season. The only thing the Trojans might need now is that extra fire I saw last season (or, if you’re a fan of the “Rocky” movies—the “Eye of the Tiger”). I saw a crazy swagger among last year’s team. It wasn’t cockiness, but confidence. Players like Xavier Roden, Paul Tajiri, and Shawn Heist walked around that field on defense like they owned it. Zach Gurinowich would pose for the RCN camera after every sack, and things like that. As a unit, they delighted in taking people’s heads off. However, they always kept their emotions from getting out-of-control and focused on the field. Once that returns, look for a more even contest should they face Easton in the postseason.
Before we continue, here are more insights and other views on our top teams:
A WIN THIS WEEK WOULD HELP…
LIBERTY – This team looked solid at times against a very good Whitehall team. However, they had three MAJOR issues last week: 1) special teams, 2) penalties and, 3) they couldn’t stop the run. While they don’t have to face Barkley again, they do have Jordan Grey and Shabbar Bokhari to deal with this Friday. First year Head Coach John Truby has to work quickly to create a scheme to at least slow down the Blue Eagles’ running attack. Against State College, the ‘Canes tried to bunch the middle, but couldn’t duplicate that against the Zephs. Even with all of Liberty’s speed, the spread offense of Nazareth creates matchup issues. This could result in even more havoc for them as they try to avoid dropping to 0-2 in the league. Not sure why issues #1 and #2 kept reoccurring last Friday. I actually thought the younger players looked more hesitant with KJ Williams returning than they did in their season opener. While I believe Doug Erney did a nice job balancing the football between all of Liberty’s speedy wideouts, I expect them to try to get Williams (5 catches for 44 yards, with several catches nullified by penalties) in more one-on-one situations to make plays and utilize his athleticism.
NAZARETH – I stopped by Nazareth’s practice this week in anticipation of their game against Liberty this Friday (airing on RCN TV at 10:00 PM). The rumor I heard was that this year’s Nazareth team has the best offensive line under Coach Rob Melosky’s entire tenure – perhaps one of the school’s top lines of all time. I asked him directly about the truth to this rumor while I was at the practice. After hiding a big smile and stating that he doesn’t like to compare one team to another, he did admit that he is VERY happy with his offensive line and the way they have performed thus far. He has two great running backs and an underrated (if not skilled) quarterback in Spencer King. Nazareth SHOULD score a lot of points. The obstacles this week will be in trying to catch Liberty’s speedy wideouts and controlling the tempo to limit the Hurricanes’ possessions. However, the fact that the Eagles like to spread things out (unlike Liberty in their defeat against State College) could give them the advantage.
FREEDOM – The Patriots have had some ups-and-downs recently and are looking to develop consistency. Unfortunately for Freedom they have a very tough opponent in Whitehall this Friday night (airing on RCN TV, live at 7:00 PM). Last week, their defense saved the day against the Vikings when senior safety Jared O’Donnell’s interception returned for a touchdown was the game-winner. Unlike the rest of the league that seems to be utilizing their speed to kick start a dynamic offense, the Patriots are using their size and experience on defense to make a postseason push. Those same senior defensive players tell me they have some very young playmakers that have outstanding potential. If the underclassmen continue to develop (or in the case of sophomore Roberto Diez, gets healthy) in a hurry, they could have a bright future sooner rather than later. While everyone’s attention, and rightly so, is on Whitehall’s Barkley, Ryan Bonshak, and Nick Nejad, Head Coach Jason Roeder liked what he saw from Quarterback Jeff Charles against Liberty last week and think they have to keep an eye on him as well to have success Friday.
*Note: Both Nazareth and Freedom’s coaches and players will be interviewed on this Thursday’s RCN Sports Talk show.
DESPARATELY SEEKING A WIN
RIDLEY – I think I might have snake-bit Ridley by targeting them for my first-ever Shout-Out feature on last week’s RCN Sports Talk show. After an impressive season opener, they lost to Conestoga by one point for the second straight season. They have a game with a very tough Garnet Valley coming up this week. A win would put them right back in the running for a league title. According to their fan Twitter account, @PhilMarionField, they are 41-14 in games following a league-opening loss. However, the Green Raiders have never beaten the GV Jags in consecutive seasons. They need to pull off a win to avoid a much more difficult trek to a district playoff spot.
CENTRAL CATHOLIC – The post-McDermott era is on and the team is still trying to find its offensive stride. The Vikings extremely underrated defense from a year ago is back and should keep them in contention for qualifying for a AAA playoff berth. With Bethlehem Catholic off to a 2-0 start, Central Catholic will have to start putting up some W’s very soon if they want to continue their “just get-in & win” pattern. In the last few years, they’ve had to fight just to make the district playoffs and then dominated once they qualified.
EMMAUS – I was very impressed with new Head Coach Randy Cuthbert when we had him in our studio a few weeks ago. I am also VERY surprised that this team is currently 0-2. With all the speed and athletes they had returning and a ‘not-the-toughest opponents’ schedule to start the season, I really thought they would be AT LEAST 2-1 after this week. I will be seeing the Hornets this Saturday to learn more about them (airing on RCN TV at 9:30 PM), but with Easton, Parkland, Liberty, Nazareth and Whitehall still to come, this could be a very long season if they don’t post a win this weekend.
That’s all the space I have for this week’s edition. I hope to focus on more teams coming up. Again, your feedback, comments, or complaints are welcome to be posted below. Feel free to email us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and join us live, Thursdays at 6:00 PM on RCN TV as we talk high school football this fall.
Next week: “Smaller Schools” in the RCN “Anti-Poll.”