Football – Win the Day: 2016 Lacey Preview
The quest for another run at the postseason is in the hearts and minds of players and coaches across the Shore Conference, and perhaps a change of division is what Lacey needs to end its drought.
Following another 3-7 season inside the rugged Class A South division, Lacey moves into B South along with its Multiple-I offensive set and 3-4 defensive look hoping for better success.
“An expectation is that we can have a better season than last year,” said junior Jason Giresi. “Last year was pretty rough - we came out 3-7 - but this year’s a lot different. We have better morale as a team and I think we’re going to come out a lot better than last year.”
Some of his teammates are echoing similar sentiments on last year, but have hope for the upcoming season.
“Last year we lost a little bit of focus,” said senior Matthew Milden. “Towards the end of the season after losing a few games, it was kind of hard. This year though, we have a lot of team chemistry. If you have the want and desire, you can go as far as you can.”
“I think we’ll be even better because lately we’ve had a very tight brotherhood,” said senior John Grosjean. “Ever since winter weight room, throughout the whole process to get to where we are now, we’ve been (as) tight as ever.”
This is a team which head coach Lou Vircillo, who enters his 36th season as the program's only coach, felt could have been at least .500 last year, and his expectations for the 2016 season are to continue developing the team.
"The athletes are working hard, they have very good chemistry," said Vircillo. "We're still trying to find what players are going to play in what positions. They're challenging each other each and every day."
The similar athletic ability adds another component to the challenge of winning those jobs Vircillo adds, and it's because of that competition that position battles may go down to the wire.
They have a handful of starters returning on both sides of the ball despite the departure of some players to graduation, but this is creating some intriguing position battles at camp starting with the line.
"We do have five people up front offensively that has solidified the offensive line right at this particular time," said Vircillo. "But there are about four other players that are new to the program that I predict will challenge that. If nothing else it'll add depth."
Players on the team could expect to see more time on one side of the ball than the other, although Vircillo acknowledges the roster size may prevent that from happening at certain times on game day.
With Lacey moving into a new division that features the likes of Donovan Catholic, Lakewood, and Point Boro, a change in the way they approach the game looks to remain status quo.
"I really try not to predict anything; it's hard enough just getting these guys to become a team," said Vircillo. "But until we start evaluating this year's B South by watching them on tape, it'll be a hard determination as to how we're going to fit in there."
While at first succeeding in the Class A-South division, Vircillo adds they became decreasingly smaller as a school while other teams became bigger in roster size.
He expects a lot of competition from teams in B South, but believes it may not be the same as they faced in A-South.
"I don't think anybody in the B is going to be to the level of those teams that we had played," said Vircillo. "But certainly they're going to have skilled athletes and be competitive."
In order to fill the void of the seniors on last season's group such as offensive linemen Tarique Smith and Joe McAvoy and linebacker Jacob Post, a number of players on this team will have to step up in order for the Lions to roar towards the playoffs. For Vircillo it's about size as well.
"We had a couple of kids last year that were thicker and bigger and stronger overall," said Vircillo. "I'd say our kids this year are as competitive, just not as big."
With all these shoes to fill, it'll be up to a lot of the returning seniors that have the exposure of the varsity experience to make big plays.
"The kid who wants to play competitively, even in collegiate football is Chase Stephensen," said Vircillo. "He played, out of necessity, at the quarterback position last year but he's really more of a receiver, so we're asking him to go to receiver and continue to play quarterback when we're in the wildcat."
“We have a good solid quarterback, (but) I could always come over and take some reps," said Stephensen. “Right now we have Coleton Klaus and he’s pretty steady.”
Stephensen is also a highly-touted Safety who Vircillo expects to lead this team.
“I don’t have too many personal goals, I really just want to help take this team as far as we can, “said Stephensen. “We’re really tight this year so I know we can as a brotherhood take us as far as we want to go. It’s just a matter of putting it together on the field.”
One position battle with a couple of guys eyeing the job is quarterback where Klaus looks like the favorite to win the job, according to Vircillo. Dylan Gudzak is one of the challengers for the position, as well.
Some of the other key players Vircillo says are competing for time to help the team this season are Grosjean, who will play cornerback and wide receiver, junior Anthony Tobia and sophomore Eric Green on defense, and Christian Morales, who is coming off an injury and will play receiver and defensive back.
At running back, Connor Wilson is returning as the starter with Giresi also seeing some reps out of the backfield in addition to playing linebacker.
“The biggest goal in my eyes personally is to rush for 1,000 yards,” said Giresi. “Coach V and the other coaches have been pushing me and pushing me to achieve that goal.”
Head Coach: Lou Vircillo, 36th season.
Career Record: 269-132-3.
2015 Record: 3-7 (1-6).
Assistant coaches: Shane Allen (DL); Warren Smith (QB/WR); Mike Stuppielo (LB); Chris Dimicco (RB/freshmen); Jack Bush (scouting); Watson Heilala (freshmen); John Tierney (OL); Joe Tobin (DB); Lee Emery (athletic trainer).
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Jason Giresi, Jr., RB/LB
Connor Wilson is returning to the Lions' backfield, but if Giresi can continue to learn and grow in the Multiple-I set, the running game could really take off. On the defensive side, the loss of linebacker Jacob Post to graduation puts a hole in the defense that Giresi looks to fill.
X-FACTOR: Team effort
In order for this team to be successful Vircillo says it's not about one guy, but the entire team working hard every day in order for them to get where they need to be. The team has bonded since the end of last season and feels tighter as a group heading into the season.
GLUE GUY: Chase Stephensen Sr., S/WR/QB
Stephensen is a player Vircillo expects to lead by example. Stephensen will play safety, where he is being recruited to play in college, but also makes a return to wide receiver and has the agility to make the Lions more versatile.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Anthony Tobia So., WR/CB
Tobia steps into a starting role at wide receiver where he'll look to compliment Stephensen and provided another reliable target for the Lions in the passing game.
PIVOTAL GAME: Oct. 8 vs. Lakewood
The Piners look to be a challenger for the Class B South title, so this game could be crucial for Lacey in their quest for a division championship.
Vin Ebenau is a Shore Sports Network Contributor. You can follow him on Twitter @VinEbenau. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.