Football – Plenty to Prove: 2016 Pinelands Preview
With slow and steady progress over the last three years under head coach Brian Wilkinson, Pinelands feels like it’s ready to have a breakout season.
The Wildcats’ 2-8 record last year may not seem like a step in the right direction, but with the current offensive and defensive systems now commonplace to all and offseason strength and conditioning programs in place, the Wildcats are confident this is the year they become a contender in Class B South.
“We have the size, we have the speed and we’re a much more aggressive team this year,” said senior offensive lineman Ryan McAndrew. “We’re going to turn some heads this year.”
The Wildcats will continue to employ their run-heavy double-wing, double-tight offense that made significant progress last season. The Wildcats went from one of the lowest scoring teams in the conference to a team that had offensive consistency. They’ll look to do that again with some returning starters along with some promising underclassmen.
Brennan Richardson ran for 912 yards and five touchdown last season and returns as one of the starting wing backs. He’ll be joined by sophomore Evan Burton, who brings good speed to the position. There’s also junior J.D. Harrison and senior Glenn Brown. Senior Dave Fairl is a returning stater at fullback along with senior Kyle Herra, who didn’t start but played a significant number of snaps.
Taking over as the starting quarterback will be sophomore Garrett Brown, who is part of a class that had much success at the freshman level. Senior Tommy Madge could also see time at quarterback.
The tight ends are junior Chris Lewis and senior Gennaro Balletta, both of whom are returning starters.
The offensive line looks to be the biggest strength with three returning starters. McAndrew returns as the right tackle and senior Rob Hart is the right guard. Senior Mike Frezza returns as the center. David Kohler started two games last year and is back at left tackle. The true newcomer is senior Brandon Weedo, who missed last season with an injury.
“On offense it’s mainly the same players as last year, so we’re more experienced,” McAndrew said.
“We have Brennan, who was only a sophomore last year, J.D. is really fast and Burton runs like a 4.7 and is only a sophomore,” Fairl said. “I think we have even more potential with our running backs this year.”
On defense, the Wildcats will shift from running a 3-3-5 stack to a 3-4. McAndrew is the nose guard, senior Rob Reeves is a returning starter at defensive end and junior Dylan Bastion is the other defensive end.
Three of the four linebackers are returning starters with Herra and junior Rob Eagle at inside linebacker, and Fairl at outside linebacker. Burton will step into a starting role at the other outside linebacker spot.
The secondary has three returning starters with Glenn Brown and Harrison at cornerback and senior John George at safety. The other safety position will be manned by Lewis.
Pinelands allowed 31.4 points per game last season, so defense is an area that must improve.
“We need to stay physical, and that will be big in the first game (against Point Boro),” Fairl said. “If we can do that it will set the tone for the rest of the year.”
“The concepts are similar in the 3-4 and it allows us to be more creative,” Wilkinson said.
Junior Jason Jeannotte returns as the kicker and Richardson returns as the punter on special teams.
Class B South looks wide open again, so the Wildcats are optimistic they can not only pick up more wins, but compete with every team in the division. A big key will be limiting turnovers, which doomed the offense in may games last season. At the end of the day it comes down to execution.
“Our kids and coaches know how far we’ve come and how close we’ve been,” Wilkinson said. “It’s a good start, but we have to execute on the field and we haven’t yet, which is why we haven’t gotten the wins. I think we’re ready to do that this year.”
“I’m excited about what we have,” Fairl said. “We have a lot of kids with experience and some changes people will be surprised about.”
Head Coach: Brian Wilkinson, fourth season (10th overall).
Career Record: 42-61.
Coaching staff: Charlie Diskin (off. coord.); Anthony Allocca (OL); Matt Fuller (WB); Dave Dempsey (FB); Mike Keller (OLB); Rob Micheliche (DB); Rob Barrett (DL); Albert Rowland, Todd Kaiser (freshmen); Stacey Childs (athletic trainer).
2015 Record: 2-8 (1-6).
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Brandon Weedo, Sr., OL
Weedo steps into a starting spot on the offensive line where Max Schnepp was an all-division player last year.
X-FACTOR: Limiting turnovers
Pinelands had many drives that stalled inside the opponents 20-yard line because of turnovers. If the Wildcats are to make a significant jump this season that can’t happen.
GLUE GUY: Dave Fairl, Sr., FB/LB
A two-way starter that has seen the program take steps forward, Fairl can help bring along many of the younger players that are the future of the program.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Evan Burton, So., WB/LB
Burton’s speed can be a factor on offense where the Wildcats have a deep group of running backs.
PIVOTAL GAME: Sept. 9 at Point Boro
The Wildcats are eager to show how much they’ve improved and will get a chance Week One against the returning Class B South co-champs.
Football editor Bob Badders can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.