Derry Trojans looking to bounce back
DERRY — Tim Sweeney has no quarrels embracing the steep challenges that lie ahead of him and the Derry Trojans.
Truth be told, Sweeney possesses the rare competitive fire needed to jumpstart a desperate program, and the former walk-on linebacker at Penn State seems especially driven at the notion of doing so at his alma mater.
The first-year head coach took over an essentially crippled team in the offseason after it suffered through one of the most trying seasons in WPIAL history in 2013.
Not to mention, Sweeney saw the lowest number of players in school history, 31, report for camp earlier this month.
“Yeah, I do think we’ve got to embrace the challenge,” Sweeney said. “I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of numbers, but without question we had the lowest turnout in the history of Derry football this year, so that’s kind of where we are at his point.
“But I’d really like people to know that just because our numbers are down doesn’t mean I don’t have 31 players who are truly committed in that locker room. It’s a special group in there, and they’re destined to do some special things here at Derry.”
Since the Trojans possess limited proven weapons at the skill positions, Sweeney said he expects his offensive line to guide them in their run-heavy, multiple-formation attack.
Junior guard Levi Humbarger, senior guard Alex Medina, senior guard Chase Stevenson, sophomore center Hunter Edmiston, junior tackle John Baker and senior tackle Josh McCleary will pave the way for senior running backs Troy Balega and Josh Flack and sophomore Tyler Balega.
Sophomore Noah Wiencek and senior Nico Latta will split time at tight end, and senior Vincent Maples (guard), sophomore Adare Medoro (guard) and junior Logan Brown (tackle) will rotate in on the offensive line.
Troy Balega rushed for a career-high 76 yards on 15 carries in Week 5 last year against Hollidaysburg. Flack ran for a career-best 69 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries in Week 8 against Hampton, and Tyler Balega galloped for a career-high 44 yards and a touchdown on eight carries in Week 7 against Highlands.
However, the Trojans mustered an area-low 758 rushing yards last year, an average of 75.8 per game.
“I honestly don’t know what to expect, but I hope it’s the five guys on our offensive line who become our playmakers,” Sweeney said. “I expect it to be a run-heavy conference, and without our offensive line we’re not going to do anything.”
Although juniors Trey Friedline and Sonny Stevens will likely share reps at quarterback, sophomore Josh Bauer and freshman Ryan Polinsky could also see time behind center.
Friedline posted career highs in yards (153) and completions (17) in Week 4 against Indiana last year. In that same game, Bauer tossed a touchdown pass to sophomore Kerek Hoffman, one of Derry’s best returning targets at wide receiver.
Senior wide receiver Jaymie Howe, Derry’s most productive returning skill player, recorded team highs in receptions (17) and receiving yards (208) last year. Howe notched career bests in receptions (6) and yards (59) against Indiana.
Sweeney said most of the players on his offensive line will platoon as regulars on the defensive line. Humbarger (tackle), Baker (tackle), McClearly (nose tackle), Maples (tackle), Medina (nose tackle) and Chase Stevenson (defensive end) make up the defensive front.
Freshman Jeff Perratone (defensive end), senior James Yakopovich (tackle) and Stevens (defensive end) will rotate in with the starters.
Other two-way starters are: Latta (cornerback/free safety), Wiencek (outside linebacker), Tyler Balega (strong safety), sophomore Collin Holden (free safety) and Howe (cornerback).
Junior Nicholas Chinchock and sophomore Matt Marron will each start at inside linebacker.
“It’s going to be hard, but we’re going to have to do it. A lot of our kids are going to have to play both ways,” Sweeney said. “The numbers are low, and that’s just what’s expected of them.
“We worked really hard all summer, and that’s because we knew our numbers were down. These guys have worked really, really hard, and I believe they’re in great shape right now.”
The Trojans have lost 18 straight games dating to a loss to Mars in Week 2 of the 2012 season. Derry went a combined 3-25 in the last three seasons under former coach Al Gaiardo in the WPIAL Class AAA Greater Allegheny Conference.
Derry dropped a class and joined the Class AA Interstate Conference this year.