Filling The Void: 2018 Lacey Football Preview
Lacey football is one of the most tradition-rich programs inside the Shore Conference coached by a legend with 38 years worth of reasons why. His name is Lou Vircillo, and he's 18 wins shy of 300 for his career.
He has the second most wins ever in the Shore Conference behind another legend, Brick's Warren Wolf.
One of the questions is when will he get there and the answer may be soon, certainly not this year but maybe next?
The Lions are competitive year in and year out and always make it interesting towards the end of the season, especially when they're on the cusp of clinching a playoff berth.
The approach has not changed and that's the case again heading into this season.
"This season is no different than any of my other seasons, we start very early (in preparation) in December/January with the idea of getting to be as strong as we can possibly be by doing some extra things in the weight room and things that aren't comfortable," Vircillo said. "If we can push through that and develop a mindset that's blue-collar and tough, I think that's what's helped Lacey be successful most of the time."
He said he was surprised to learn recently that, "we're the winningest program in Ocean County since 1981 (his first as Lions head coach and the first year of the program) and third in the Shore. That says something. We're not the greatest team ever, we're not the worst team ever but we fight all the time and we're competitive all the time."
The offseason and preseason conditioning have been paying dividends so far as the Lions prepare for stiffer competition.
"We've been lifting a lot in the offseason and preparing our bodies to be able to take hits to get better and stronger," junior linebacker Mike Kudlacik said.
"It's going to help us out a lot because only the fastest and the strongest can win," senior safety and wide receiver Eric Green said. "We want to be the fastest and the strongest and have worked hard all summer, and this conditioning is going to help us out a lot."
In order to get to the playoffs this season, they'll need to fill the void of eight players on the offense who graduated last season.
They lose four big pieces of their team they'll need to replace, all whom played in the Shore Sports Network All-Shore Gridiron Classic this summer: quarterback Coleton Klaus, guard John Carr, wide receiver Tanner Miick and running back Jason Giresi.
"It's not very easy to do (to replace these players); we've lost kids that have played for us for two years and eight kids are not easy to replace," Vircillo said. "However, we do have a young man who played wide receiver and backed up as a quarterback (Dylan Gudzak) and who has all the capability of being a very good quarterback and we're replacing the receivers and they're young, but pretty good. They're learning on the fly and I expect them to be solid."
The biggest hurdle they're trying to overcome is replacing players like John Carr and others on the offensive line.
"We have our center returning, Shane Richardson, and guard Anthony Krueger, but the others are new," Vircillo said. "It's (players such as) Ray Agosto (senior tackle) and Luke Kern (senior tight end) who played some last year and now come back to the offensive line."
"We're really looking for the younger kids to step up and show what they're made of," Krueger said. "We're (the seniors) just trying to show them what Lacey football is all about, going out there and having a good time and doing what we have to do."
The Lions will need to rely on their depth this year after the running back Vircillo anticipated being the starter to replace Giresi, Cory Gudzak, is now done for the season after suffering an injury during the first scrimmage.
There are a couple younger players Vircillo is looking at to take some snaps in the backfield.
While Dylan Gudzak will take the starting quarterback position replacing Klaus, at running back will be junior Justin Gorski, who Vircillo says has "all the speed in the world" and is a breakaway threat. The other running back getting another share of the carries will be sophomore Chase Granit, who is more of a power back.
They'll build up the receiving corp again after losing players like Miick with players like junior Donovan Bacchetta.
While building the offense back up is their tallest task Vircillo, and the coaches can breathe easier knowing they have some key defensive players coming back this season, and so far in training camp, they're flying to the ball.
"We have more experience (on defense) and we're going to rely on that to try and reduce the scoring of the opponent," Vircillo said. "We feel the mobility and speed of our defense has improved over the last five years."
"I think defense is probably the number one part of the game," senior linebacker Quint Kearns said. "I think that'll be key to our success this year."
Whether it's a returning starter or a player competing for a starting job, there's plenty of talent on this year's Lions roster.
"We think that our one safety, Eric Green, has been playing very solid football, we feel our linebackers have been playing solid and we have a couple very young people on the defensive line, but they're strong and they move well," Vircillo said. "We have two sophomore defensive lineman, Vinny Ceglie and Gerard O'Connor, who have shown a great deal of potential and capability at that position."
Vircillo says they also have junior basketball player Jordan Cohen joining the team this year to play some tight end and defensive line.
While the Lions are coming off a 7-3 season in 2017, they're taking nothing for granted this season as they make the transition from the B South to the Constitution Division playing teams like Ocean, who they open up against in Week 0 on the road, and Manalapan, who they close out the season against on the road.
Vircillo isn't looking too far ahead in terms of a playoff push right now.
"It's lofty to talk about all this because we're in a very tough league," Vircillo said. "We hope to be competitive in our league. What we're going to shoot for right now is to be as tight a competitive team as we can be in our opener against Ocean Township."
At a Glance
Head coach: Lou Vircillo, 38th season.
Career record: 282-139-3.
2016 record: 7-3 (5-2).
Coaching staff: Shane Allen (DL); Warren Smith (QB); Mike Stuppiello (LB); Chris DiMicco (RB); Jack Bush (scouting); Watson Heleila (freshmen); John Tierney (OL); Joe Tobin (DB); Bob Nani (OL); Keith Tyhannic (freshmen); Lee Emery (athletic trainer).
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Justin Gorski, Sr., RB
After the loss of Jason Giresi to graduation and running back Cory Gudzak to injury this preseason, it'll be up to Gorski as the next man up to provide a jolt to the running game for an offense that lost eight of its 11 starters.
X-FACTOR: The running game
Lacey is a program known for having a good running game and in order for them to be successful this season they'll need a healthy push from their backs. While the defense returns a lot of starters, the offense lost a lot to graduation and it'll be up to the younger running backs to move the ball this year.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Chase Granit, So., RB/LB
Granit is a player expected to make an impact early and often throughout the season as one of the running backs replacing Jason Giresi, who graduated last season. The sophomore has impressed coaches in training camp and has a bright future.
PIVOTAL GAME: Sept. 29 vs. Jackson Memorial
While the Lions are replacing eight of 11 players on offense, their defense returns most of its starters who have been flying to the ball in training camp. If the Lions are to contend again in 2018 they'll need to win some tough games in the second half of the season, starting with the Jaguars.
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.