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Punxsutawney fueled by strong senior class

by on August 28, 2014 9:20 AM

PUNXSUTAWNEY — In 2012, the last time Alan Nichol began a season with 15 seniors, the Punxsutawney coach helped the Chucks rebound from a three-win season and reach the District 9 Class AAA playoffs for the third time in four years.

Coming off his second three-win season in his tenure, Nichol again has 15 seniors on his roster, a fact that gives the sixth-year coach comfort, particularly after having just seven seniors on last year’s team.

“We only had seven seniors last year, and this is a physical game,” said Nichol, who has amassed a 30-24 record in his time with the Chucks. “You have the edge as you mature and get older, and last year, we didn’t have that edge many times. This year we have quite a few seniors, even though a couple of those guys it’s their first year out, but we still have a good, solid group of 12 or 14 seniors who have been playing football for a long time.

“If you’re going to build a solid program, you’ve got to keep the numbers up through each grade. That’s always one of the biggest challenges.”

The Chucks also have 14 juniors and will start just two sophomores, outside linebacker Levi Campbell and offensive tackle/inside linebacker Blake Bizousky.

Nine of Punxsutawney’s clan of seniors have earned two letters, and three others lettered last season.

Thankfully for the Chucks’ senior-laden backfield, the strength of their team will reside in their offensive front, which includes four returning starters. Three of those linemen, center Ethan Ambler, guard Luke Shiock and guard Keegan Fischer, are seniors. The other returning starter, junior tackle Brandon Douthit (6-foot-5, 265 pounds), was an All-Keystone Shortway Athletic Conference Large-School Division selection last year.

Seniors and two-time returning letterwinners Jacob Gotwald and Dalton Maines and senior and returning letterwinner Jacob Coalmer will each add depth to the Chucks’ already solid front five.

“We’ve got some depth, and we’re really counting on those guys up front to have a great year,” Nichol said. “Especially guys like Luke Shiock and Brandon Douthit. At times last year both of those guys showed the ability to control games with their play.”

Since Nichol plans to spread things out and throw the ball more in four-wide receiver sets, quarterback Dakota Thomas spent plenty of time over the summer trying to get in sync with fellow senior split end Andrew Fedigan.

Despite the fact that he was named an all-conference tight end last year, Nichol expects the 6-1 Fedigan to play a more integral role in the passing game this year.

“Andy’s back, and much like Perry Arrington, Andrew did a lot of the hard work for us last year,” Nichol said. “For a big guy he’s got good speed, and he catches the ball well. We’re kind of counting on him as our possession guy and as the guy who can stretch the field for us a little bit.”

Seven seniors will platoon as two-way starters for the Chucks, including Arrington at weak-side linebacker and Fedigan at safety. Arrington had a team-best three interceptions last year, and Fedigan emerged as one of the team’s top tacklers.

Nichol said he wouldn’t be surprised to see a faster and stronger Fedigan make the all-conference team as a safety this season.

“He played more like an outside linebacker position for us last year, and he had some really good games out there,” Nichol said. “He got to the point as a junior that he was physical enough to be an all-conference player.

“That’s what you’re looking for out there on defense: guys who can get to the ball and make the tackles. And he made some really nice plays out there for us.”

Dustin Filloy is a sports writer for The Indiana Gazette.
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