2014 Pinelands Football Preview: Attitude Adjustment
Pinelands finally got back into the win column last season when it defeated Point Boro in overtime to snap a 22-game losing streak that dated back to 2010. The Wildcats finished 1-9 in head coach Brian Wilkinson’s first year with the program, but with a good amount of returning starters and a new offense, they feel they’re ready to make a big jump into contention in Class B South.
“This has been the most intense team I’ve ever been a part of,” said senior lineman Dave DeFeo. “We’re out here busting our butts every day, and you can tell it’s different around here. It’s going to show on the field.”
Pinelands is switching its offense to the run-heavy double-tight, double-wing formation to take advantage of its strength along the offensive line. The hopeful two-fold result is a physical offense that controls the clock and keeps its defense fresh.
“Our strength coming in was our line, and we think the offense is a perfect fit for the program down the road and particularly this year,” Wilkinson said. “And it’s also an attitude offense to some degree. We want to establish the run, and it’s no secret. I thought we improved a lot on defense last year, but if we can take another step on offense it will help us shorten games and play better defense.”
Four starters return along the offensive line from a unit that feels it will be able to drastically improve on its 8.4 points-per-game average from last season. David Staton, a 6-foot-5, 270-pound senior is the right tackle, and DeFeo, who comes in at 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds, is the right guard. The center is 300-pound senior Joe Puggi, and the left guard is 235-pound junior Max Schnepp. The only spot without a returning starter is left tackle, where 275-pound junior Cameron Winters will start. The tight ends are a pair of juniors in Dean Disanzo and Dominick Zamora.
“Our whole offensive line is pretty big across the board, and we’ve all had varsity experience,” DeFeo said. “Our backs are strong and once they get behind us we’re hoping it’s five yards every carry.”
“The offensive linemen are our leaders,” Wilkinson said. “They’re believe they’re going to get it done and everyone on the team believes in them.”
The quarterback is 6-foot-3, 200-pound senior Jimmy Graham and the fullbacks are sophomore David Fairl, senior Gurkan Yilmaz and senior Conner Bussey. Bussey will also play at wingback with seniors Jaylin Roman, Nick D’Andrea and Sage Sysol, and junior Will Jenkins in a rotation.
“We’re going to have a lot of people with a lot of carries,” Wilkinson said. “We don’t have any one person that if you take him out of the game we’re in trouble. It’s all based on team.”
After allowing over 500 points in 2012, the Wildcats were improved last season in allowing 37 points per game, although there is still much work to be done on that side of the ball. The Wildcats will run a 3-3-5 with three returning starters, including Puggi, a Class B South all-division defensive lineman.
“Coach Wilkinson is very defensive-minded, and it’s a defense-heavy practice most of the time,” DeFeo said. “We could score 50 points a game, but if we’re giving up 51 it’s not going to matter.”
Puggi will play nose tackle with DeFeo, another returning starter, at defensive tackle. Schnepp will play as the other defensive tackle. The outside linebacker/strong safety hybrids are Fairl and senior Jake Stuerze, a returning starter. The strong side linebacker is Yilmaz and the weak side linebacker is Bussey. Playing middle linebacker is senior Tyler Somodi, who played varsity as a freshman but did not play the last two years.
“I had Tyler in class and he’s a great kid, and I worked on him all year to come back,” Wilkinson said. “He came in right away and his reads were really good, and he’s a physical player. I’m excited to have him in the middle of our defense.”
“We have a lot of new looks on defense, and it all starts with stopping the runs up the middle,” Somodi said. “Defense is the key to us winning games this year, and I hope to be the leader.”
The cornerbacks are Jenkins and senior Zach Hehre with Sysol as the free safety.
Senior Jon Kubricki, whose field goal in overtime gave Pinelands its only win last season, returns as the placekicker. Sysol is the punter.
After years of being the doormat in Class B South and an afterthought for most of its opponents, Pinelands is ready to jump back into contention with new systems and a new attitude.
“Right now I hope all we’re thinking about is Donovan on September 5, but we feel like if we do what we’re supposed to do we’ll be in games with everybody,” Wilkinson said.
“I’m sure everyone will take us lightly and think it’s good ole’ Pinelands and an easy win,” DeFeo said. “But we’re going to smack them in the mouth a little bit. We’re going to bring it.”
Head coach: Brian Wilkinson, 2nd season (8th overall)
Career record: 1-9 (24-37 overall)
Assistant coaches: Matt Fuller (off. coord./RB); Anthony Allocca (OL); Scott Peterka (OL); Rob Sanzari (QB); Justin Loomis (LB); Albert Rowland (DB); Dan Abbatto, Rob Micheliche, Richard Pear (freshman); Stacey Ayles (athletic trainer).
2013 record: 1-9 (1-6)
Big Shoes To Fill: Tyler Somodi, Sr., LB
Somodi returns to the team after two years of not playing and takes over for the graduated Mike Yak at middle linebacker.
X-Factor: Improved defense
Pinelands is banking on an improved offense with an experienced offensive line in a new scheme, and if the defense can become a consistent unit the Wildcats will be in position to dramatically improve their win total.
Glue Guy: Dave DeFeo, Sr., OL/DL
The offensive linemen are the leaders of the team, and DeFeo is a returning starter on both sides of the ball.
Impact Newcomer: Dave Fairl, So., RB/LB
The sophomore steps into a starting role at outside linebacker and will also be in the rotation at fullback on offense.
Pivotal Game: Sept. 5 at Donovan Catholic
The Wildcats open with a Week Zero game and an early chance to show how much they’ve improved. They can also equal their win total from last and start 1-0 for the first time since 2010.