NuMINE — The underclassmen who helped West Shamokin break out of the WPIAL’s worst funk last year have matured into confident juniors and seniors.
The Wolves won three games last year, including a Week 3 win over Riverview that snapped the WPIAL’s longest losing skid, a 46-game slide that began in 2007.
Now that the stigma that plagued West Shamokin for years has vanished, first-year coach Jon McCullough contends that the Wolves can compete with the Eastern Conference’s top-tier teams.
“Things have absolutely changed. Our kids have grown up,” McCullough said. “A lot of the kids we had starting the last couple years were freshmen and sophomores. Now they’re juniors and seniors. It’s just a developmental stage with them and with the program. Now we’re on a more even keel with the teams we’re playing, because now our players are the same age as their players.”
McCullough also admitted with pleasure that last year’s win over Riverview radically altered the overall morale and perception of the program.
“First off, it was just a relief to have the streak snapped,” he said. “Once that’s done, you can sort of breathe and just move forward, because you finally have that behind you. But what we did last year, it’s not going to help us for what we want to do this year — beside the point of getting over the losing streak. But now I think our kids have the confidence to know that we can compete. All we have to do now is put in the work and then go out and execute on game day.”
With 32 players on the roster, McCullough will have six more bodies at his disposal than last year’s coach, Josh Gilliland. The Wolves can also boast of five seniors and nine juniors, better than last year’s four seniors and seven juniors.
Eight returning starters spearhead West Shamokin’s Wing-T offense. Returning offensive starters are senior guard Austin Bussard, senior center Brock Kennedy, junior guard Austin Reesman, senior wide receiver Brady Cornman, junior wide receiver Adam Crise, junior fullback Zac Horner, junior tailback Andrew Wingard and junior quarterback Alex Lasslo.
At season’s end last year, Horner and Wingard were the area’s ninth- and 10th-leading rushers, respectively. Horner, who rushed for more than 800 yards as a freshman, rushed for 785 yards and five touchdowns on 135 carries last year. Wingard rolled up 776 yards and eight touchdowns on 145 attempts.
Lasslo completed 36 of 86 passes for 517 yards and four touchdowns last year. He’ll have his top target from a year ago back in Cornman, a 6-foot-3 split end who caught 16 passes for 272 yards and a touchdown last year.
“Getting a whole year under his belt was huge,” McCullough said of Lasslo. “You can’t put a price tag on playing experience and actually being out there. I fully expect him to take on a much bigger role this year and become this team’s leader.”
Other offensive starters are junior guard Sam Buffone, sophomore guard Hugh McClafferty, sophomore tackle Brad Shaeffer, senior tackle Logan O’Brian, sophomore wide receiver Zach Bowser, sophomore tailback Brandon Stover and sophomore tailback Jarret Kintz.
Akin to its offense, West Shamokin will rely on eight returning starters to power its 4-4 defensive scheme. Returning starters are Kennedy (tackle), Reesman (defensive end), Crise and Wingard (outside linebackers), Horner and Bussard (inside linebackers) and Cornman and Lasslo (cornerbacks).
“Horner is probably our biggest playmaker on defense,” McCullough said. “He sort of sets the tone for us. Andrew Wingard’s another one of those guys who has play-making ability.
“Wingard, Adam Crise and Austin Bussard are all going to be key components of our defense. Those guys have proven to be smart, hard-nosed players, and we need them to continue to improve and contribute.”
McCullough admitted that the Wolves must improve drastically on their tackling in order to keep up with the conference’s premiere teams like North Catholic and Apollo-Ridge.
“We’ve got to get better with tackling as a team,” McCullough said. “You can barely skate by against the teams at the bottom of the conference with poor tackling, but you’re never going to beat the best teams without good tackling. We made it a point to address that in camp, and hopefully that changes this year.”
Other defensive starters are junior Nick Huth (defensive end), junior Scott Bish (tackle), Buffone (defensive end), Shaeffer (tackle), O’Brian (tackle) and Stover (free safety).