Coach: Mark Saunders (20-33) // Mid Penn Commonwealth // District 3 // Class AAAA
Ed Gotwals / GameTimePA.com
The Chambersburg football team has been taking golf lessons in its preseason training.
Well, not actually swinging clubs, but coach Mark Saunders said he wants his team to develop what he calls a “golf mentality.” After a 1-9 season, perhaps anything is worth a try.
Saunders said, “For us to be successful, we want the players to play against themselves to see how good they can be, and then see where we are when we’re actually playing against an opponent. It’s just about getting yourself ready.”
Saunders believes he has a team that can turn that nasty-looking record around in 2015.
“Athletically, we’re so far ahead of where we were last year,” he said. “We just couldn’t play fast. We couldn’t get away from anybody and we couldn’t catch up to anybody.”
Potential was a frequently uttered word by Saunders when describing his team. He has a healthy number of new players who could make a huge difference at several positions as long as they can stay focused on football and find their niche on the team, and another batch of young players that could find plenty of playing time.
Three transfers are in the mix – Warren Lee (Baltimore) at running back and strong safety, Sean Vessah (Mercersburg Academy) at receiver and linebacker, and Kammeron Greene (Altoona) at cornerback.
Saunders said, “Lee (5-foot-10, 185 pounds) could be the most influential – he will open some eyes because he just pops out at you on film. Vessah should be a help with his athleticism.”
Several other players who are new to the program or are returning after some time off include Tyqwaan Thomas (RB/DE), Daymeon Roberts (LB) and Barrington Slavery (RB, DE).
“Tyqwaan reminds me some of (former Trojan) Dymond Thomas – he can run, he’s agile and he can get out of trouble (at the line of scrimmage) with his athleticism,” Saunders said. “Daymeon could be a real wild card because he can get to the ball quick.”
Even with an influx of new talent, the Trojans will have several key questions to answer.
• Who will be the starting quarterback? Senior Hunter Leedy started most games last year and completed 81 of 169 throws (48%) for 746 yards, with three touchdowns and seven interceptions. But sophomore Kaden Hoover, who got into two games last year (5-for-7, 32 yards), is getting plenty of first-team snaps in practice.
Saunders said, “Hoover is a competitor, and he can run the option a little more, but we want to see him in scrimmages. Hunter has the experience and has a better knowledge of the system.”
• Where will the linebackers come from? The linebacker corps last year, nicknamed the Bluenami, has all graduated, leaving a big void. It appears that Mason Deshong will inherit the middle LB position, with Joshua Honorat (30 tackles last year) and Vessah at the outside spots. Jarett Secrist and Roberts are also vying for time.
“Honorat is a ballhawk – we had him at cornerback last year and he was in on a lot of plays,” Saunders said. “Deshong has worked hard and is a good leader and he’s trying to keep the tradition of the Bluenami.”
One question Chambersburg does not have to answer is: Who is the kicker? Heading into the season last year, Nazeer Taylor was just another freshman on the roster. Then he won the job and hit 8 of 9 field goal tries and 7 of 8 point-after kicks.
Saunders said, “Nazeer’s on the road to being one of the better kickers we’re ever had here. He’s been consistent hitting field goals from 40 to 45 yards out. And he’s worked on his punting – I think he’s nearly put a hole in our net.”
The Trojan offense hopes to be a little more dependent on its rushing attack this year. One big reason is that five players who started on the line are back. The line expects to include returners Deshong (5-11, 220) at center, Kelton Chastulik (6-3, 265) at left tackle, Calvin Noel (6-5, 300) at right tackle, Nate Trindel (6-3, 275) at right guard and Albert Bumbaugh (5-10, 250) at left guard.
Chastulik, a junior starting for the third year, said, “I think this is the best united line I’ve played on. I would say we have bigger, stronger linemen this year and our new line coach (Scott Shacreaw) knows the game and is teaching us a lot.”
Even though those five are returners, several other players are pushing hard and could see a lot of time. Among them are Wade Stickell (6-2, 230) at center, Myles Braxton (6-0, 270), Derek Moore (6-3, 225) and Nate Meyer (6-3, 220) at tackle, and Xavier Navarro (5-10, 225) and Aaron Cole (5-9, 250) at guard.
Saunders said, “That group is a big key. We have to be able to run the ball and to do that we have to bring the attitude. We want them to be nasty and we want them to be physical. Hopefully the personalities of Chastulik and Braxton will rub off on them.”
If the line does come through, there should be enough talent in the backfield to do some damage. Darious Johnson (99 carries, 382 yards, 1 TD) is the top returner, and he also caught 15 balls for 152 yards. Lee should be a starter and also in the running are Carter Edmondson (40-149, 10 catches for 59), Darren Gardner (29-52), Thomas and Slavery.
“Johnson has really improved, and we’ll see a lot of good things from him,” Saunders said. “He’s worked his tail off and he’s a lot more versatile now. We have five or six guys who could give us a spark.”
Sam Blevins (13 catches, 131 yards) and Clay Myers (3-21) return at receiver, and Vessah will help out. At tight end, Saunders can go with Vessah, Griffen Leedy (3-12) or Nathan Reed.
“The newer guys will make us more athletic,” Blevins said. “It makes our offense better because we can play with more speed and get it outside quicker.”
Thomas, Griffen Leedy (3 tackles), Philippe Lotius and Brandon Miller are at the top of the chart at defensive end. The starters at tackle should be Braxton (29 tackles, 5 for a loss, 2 interceptions) and Chastulik (27 tackles, 8 pressures), with Noah Privett, Stickell and Navarro getting playing time.
“Braxton is very quick – he took an interception 55 yards for a touchdown last year,” Saunders said. “He can be a disruptive force.”
Johnson (3 tackles, 1 int.) and Greene project to be the corners, but Reggie Adams (5 tackles), Caleb Thompson and Austin Kopp are vying for time. Behind Lee and Blevins (28 tackles, 5 int.) at safety are Edmondson and Myers.
Saunders appears to be a lot more upbeat than a year ago at this time. He believes his team is more equipped to face its usual strong schedule.
“I’m seeing good signs,” he said. “(The first day of official practice) was the most physical practice we’ve had since I’ve been here. Guys were getting after it. We have a different look this year. I think the kids seem to be focused on showing that we are not a 1-9 program.”
There is, of course, only one way to prove that. This team seems capable of that.
Date/Result // Opponent // Time/Score
L // Greencastle-Antrim // 29-32
L // @ Shippensburg // 21-26
9/17 // @ Lower Dauphin // 6 p.m.
9/25 // Central Dauphin // 7 p.m.
10/2 // @ State College // 7 p.m.
10/9 // Mifflin County // 7 p.m.
10/16 // Central Dauphin East // 7 p.m.
10/23 // Carlisle // 7 p.m.
10/31 // @ Harrisburg // 1 p.m.
11/6 // @ Cumberland Valley // 7 p.m.
Result // Opponent // Score
L // Greencastle-Antrim // 10-34
L // Shippensburg // 0-15
L // Lower Dauphin // 10-50
L // Central Dauphin // 0-45
L // State College // 6-42
W // Mifflin county // 20-0
L // Central Dauphin East // 19-42
L // Carlisle // 10-46
L // Harrisburg // 10-47
L // Cumberland Valley // 0-41