Ready or not, Sept. 7 is less than three weeks away.
Experienced football teams relish the 24 practices during training camp allotted to Division III schools, eager to fine tune a few areas and gear up for the first game of the season.
The 2013 Allegheny Gators are not one of those teams.
“I wish Sept. 7 would come three months from now,” 12th year head coach Mark Matlak said about his youthful Gators squad.
That’s not to say that the Gators don’t have high expectations. It’s simply a matter of being just four days into training camp with players void of anything but a helmet and shoulder pads.
It’s safe to say there are still a few wrinkles to iron out. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of time to do it in.
“It’s been just four days. You can’t see much in shorts,” Matlak said. “Football isn’t played in shorts.”
An overcast afternoon played host to the Gators’ final practice before full contact begins today. Just under 80 players walked through drills, literally taking the first steps in what appears to be a rebuilding year for Allegheny.
The Gators, who were 5-5 overall and 4-3 in the North Coast Athletic Conference a season ago, have more than enough upside thanks to the return of 14 starters. Unfortunately, none of those starters plays quarterback.
The race to find out who will be taking snaps under center when Allegheny hosts Kenyon opening day begins now, as multiple signal callers took snaps with the first team offense Monday. Sophomore Joe Dawida seems to have the inside track to become the starterafter playing in six games last season, completing 44 of 73 attempts.
Dawida has the most experience of any of the candidates, which include junior Stephen Nymick, and sophomores Tanner Allen and Kyle Smith.
But this early in camp, Matlak’s response as to whether one of the four quarterbacks are a leading candidate for the opening is short and to the point: “No, absolutely not.”
“We have a lot of question marks. We need to get a lot of things squared away,” Matlak said. “Our biggest issue right now is finding a quarterback.”
With plenty of unknowns on the field, one position that looks to be secured is at tailback, as sophomore Tyler Smith is showing early on that it’s his job to lose in the backfield.
Smith is coming off an ankle injury that sidelined him late during his freshman season. Despite the injury, Smith still tallied the second most yards on the ground last year behind starter Tim Werley, who graduated.
“I really feel like we’ve got some good skill kids,” Matlak said. “I was impressed with Tyler Smith last year, but he hurt his ankle and didn’t play five games at the end of the year.”
Matlak’s praise for Smith was equaled by his feelings toward junior wide receiver Andrew Niklaus.
“I’ve always been impressed by Andrew, we just haven’t been able to get him the ball,” Matlak said.
Allegheny finished last in the league in total offense in 2012, making it a good place to start for Matlak and his coaching staff on an area to improve upon.
Improvement for the Gators isn’t confined to just the offense, as defensively, Matlak said his team needs to fill in the holes of a slew of graduated players.
Gone are Bill Devlin, Rudy DeStefano and Ryan Vietmeler, the top three leading tacklers in 2012. Together, the three tallied 230 tackles, a total that took the next seven top tacklers combined to equal.
“Good recruiting, that’s how you replace that,” Matlak said on filling the holes on defense. “That’s one of the question marks we have. The linebacker group is a muddle. We’ll see how it shakes out during camp.”
Allegheny was picked to finish fourth out of 10 teams in the NCAC preseason poll, a position that Matlak could care less about.
For Matlak, it’s a one-day-at-a-time approach, and with a young football team, it is likely the correct approach.
“It doesn’t mean anything. I think you just have to improve daily and try to get better,” Matlak said. “When the preparation is good, we’ll make some improvements, and then see success on the field. I don’t take much stock in (the preseason poll).
While Matlak works to figure out just how his roster will shake down, the one constant with all of his Allegheny teams is developing a committed squad.
Once the Gators buy in to Matlak’s direction, which is inevitable, the true success for the team will show.
“The big thing for me is creating a culture of effort and commitment,” Matlak said. “I’m not going to watch the scoreboard so much, as we need a committed effort from our football team. If we get that, we’ll get better, and the results will show.”
The Gators have 19 practices left to make that happen.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Quarterback, linebacker among may questions Gators face before Sept. 7 season opener
Ready or not, Sept. 7 is less than three weeks away.
H.S. Hockey: Bulldogs capture Lakeshore championship
For some of Meadville’s seniors it hadn’t sank in yet.
Lancers continue playoff push against Titans
The General McLane girls basketball team looks to keep its postseason journey going as it faces off with District 5 champion Tussey Mountain in the second round of the PIAA Class AA Girls Basketball Championship tournament. Game time is today at 6:30 p.m. at Penn Hills High School in Pittsburgh.
Scots top Knights for PSAC crown
Home sweet home.
Edinboro University’s Valerie Majewski, the former General McLane standout who returned to the ’Boro this season after two years at the University of Buffalo, was in her old comfort zone Sunday afternoon.
NCAA MEN'S BASKETBALL: Hollins helps Minnesota beat Penn State
The pressure on Minnesota will ratchet up in a few days. This afternoon was for reflection -- and some fun.
Austin Hollins had 14 points and three steals in his last scheduled home game, a fitting senior spark for the Golden Gophers in an 81-63 victory over Penn State on Sunday to set up a rematch between these teams in the first round of the Big Ten tournament.
Reed on a roll, wins a World Golf Championship
He wore black pants and a red shirt, his Sunday colors. He took a lead into the final round, quickly expanded it with a pair of birdies and then relied on his short game to keep everyone chasing him. He even played it safe off the 18th tee, caring more about the trophy than the final score.
Breese closes career with second straight title
Sam Breese now knows how it feels to be perfect.
Breese finished with an undefeated season record of 35-0, with win No. 35 being the sweetest one of all.
The Lakeview senior stared into the face of the pressure that comes with defending a title, and made the Giant Center in Hershey feel like home. Undeniable talent and an incredible determination are the hallmarks of Breese’s approach to wrestling, and for the second straight year, he can call himself a champion.
McLane’s Wheeling comes up short in final
On a night when six wrestlers repeated as PIAA Class AAA champions, Chance Marsteller and Thomas Haines stole the show.
Marsteller, of Kennard-Dale, and Haines, of Solanco, became the 11th and 12th four-time gold-medal winners in Pennsylvania history. Marsteller (166-0) also is the first four-time champion to complete his career without a loss since Cary Kolat (1989-92) and the fourth overall.
Serra outlasts Cardinals
For the second time in as many days a basketball team from Cochranton High School played a private school from the WPIAL, put forth a valiant fight, but ultimately had its heart broken.
On Friday, it was the Cochranton boys team, which fell to Vincentian Academy 95-85.
Breese lone local to reach Class AA finals
A busy and entertaining Day 2 of wrestling at the PIAA Individual Wrestling Championships in Hershey came and went, as did the dreams of a gold medal for a handful of local wrestlers.
The one local wrestler that doesn’t apply to is Lakeview’s Sam Breese, who had the Giant Center crowd in aw during his two matches Friday. The two bouts equated to two wins, which means a shot a defending his championship.
Lee, Wheeling survive Day 2 in Hershey
Ehrin Lee’s smile following his quarterfinal win Friday at the PIAA Individual Wrestling Championships told the whole story.
Lee has had his eyes on the state championships all season long, and just getting there wasn’t enough. The Titusville 160-pounder has wrestled like one of the best grapplers in the state during the tournament thus far, and his 3-2 overtime win over Northampton’s Bobby Fehr proved that if nothing else, he’s one of the four best wrestlers in his weight class.
- More Sports Headlines
- H.S. Hockey: Bulldogs capture Lakeshore championship