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Returning to postseason is the focus for Marple Newtown

By 28 August, 2008August 20th, 2012No Comments

By Christopher Vito, Delaware County Times
August 28, 2008

NEWTOWN SQUARE – The grass stains on Phil Graziano’s practice pants tell a story.  So do the bruises on Steve Reynolds’ shins.

The senior captains were unsatisfied with Marple Newtown’s 7-4 season in 2007, when it failed to make the postseason and was out of the Central League title race.
They’re doing everything to make sure their season doesn’t end that way again.
Two years removed from a District One Class AAA appearance, the Tigers are hungry to earn a return trip and the respect of their league peers in the process.
What will it take to attain all of that?
“We need the younger guys to realize how important the playoffs are,” said Graziano, a halfback and defensive back. “I can remember the atmosphere at this place was great. That’s the motivation in the back of our mind. We tell the younger guys, ‘in case you don’t know what that’s like, go out and feel it for yourselves.'”
Reynolds concurred.  “It was a sea of orange,” the lineman said. “It still gives me chills when I think about it.”
Graziano and Reynolds are two of the Tigers’ five returning starters from a graduating class that claimed more than just role players. It left the Tigers bereft of veteran leadership and experience.
Coach Ray Gionta’s team will open its season Friday against Conestoga with a roster of 45 players, of which 21 are sophomores. That means that nearly half of his team has yet to play a down on the varsity level.
Gionta, in his sixth season at Marple Newtown, does not have an itinerary for his younger players to follow, but he expects them to learn on the fly.
“They’ll get their chances and you just have to go through the motions with them,” he said. “We’ve been doing the same things for years. You have to anticipate the rookie mistakes that are going to happen in either your offensive or defensive execution. Experience will definitely be an obstacle for us.”
It could be an uphill battle for Marple Newtown, but in case the Tigers require more motivation to make the playoffs, a winning season likely would give their coach his 100th career win. Gionta enters the 2008 season eight wins shy of the mark.
“That topic came up at the dinner table the other night,” Graziano said. “My dad heard about it through a couple of St. James people. I would love to do that for Coach Gionta. He devotes everything he has to the program. You want to come up big for him.”
To do so, the Tigers will rely on their offensive backfield, the clear-cut strength of the team.   Their top threat will be Nick Stephens, an unconventional fullback in that he carries the ball more often than he blocks for someone else with it. The senior transfer rushed for 1,059 yards and five touchdowns on 186 carries with Penncrest last season.
Having Stephens getting as many touches as he will should be a boon for Gionta, who graduated his top two rushers. The Tigers also boast Graziano, who had 69 carries for 323 yards last season, and Dan Giordano, another senior captain and backfield threat.
Gionta’s only concern is that he has enough fresh bodies to block for his running backs.
“With the exception of our tackles Kevan Strigle, who’s 6-2, 240, and Pete Finegan, who’s 6-1, 230, we don’t have anybody else who’s big on the line,” Gionta said. “They might not need big bodies but I’d like to have them. We also have Kevin Lopez to play offensive guard and defensive end, and he’s really improved on the line.”
Reynolds, a center on the offensive side, thinks his backfield is one of the best in the county.  “But without a good offensive line, it doesn’t mean anything,” Reynolds said. “That’s where we’ve got to step it up.”
Another player to keep an eye on is the one to whom Reynolds will be snapping the ball- first-year quarterback Kevin Johnson. Gionta likes what he has seen from Johnson, who has shown a marked improvement since he and his teammates attended a Wing-T football camp hosted this summer by East Stroudsburg.
Tight end Carl Kasarsky could prove to be Johnson’s primary target. Due to the crowded backfield, the 6-2 Kasarsky moved from running back to tight end, a switch that could work in both his and Johnson’s favor.
If everything comes together, the Tigers could be celebrating a couple of milestones by season’s end – including Gionta’s 100th win.
“We owe it to him,” Reynolds said. “He’s been very good to us.”

Tigers at a Glance

  • 2007 RECORD: 7-4 (5-4, Central League).
  • HEAD COACH: Ray Gionta (Sixth season at Marple Newtown: 33-22; Overall: 92-86-1).
  • STAFF: Lou D’Alonzo, Christo Garavelas, Larry Kelly, Nick Reynolds, Mike Doyle, Steve Cull, Matt Cull, Ted Carotenuto, Bob DiSands and Jim Allsman.
  •  KEY RETURNEES: Dan Giordano (HB-LB) 6-0, 214; Phil Graziano (HB-DB) 5-10, 188; Steve Reynolds (C-DE) 6-3, 202; Kevin Lopez (G-DE) 6-2, 218; Jon McKeighan (OG-DE) 5-10, 190.
  • TOP NEWCOMERS: Ron Alf (SE-DB) 5-8, 142; Kevin Johnson (QB-DB) 6-1, 182; Carl Kasarsky (TE-LB) 6-2, 178; Nick Stephens (FB-LB) 6-1, 220;Kevan Strigle (OT-DE) 6-1, 255; Pete Finegan (OT-DE) 6-3, 222.
  • OUTLOOK: Marple Newtown will run the ball down the opposition’s throat. That’s not to say it isn’t adept at passing, but its offensive line is stout and its strength is in numbers, with three potential starting running backs. The most telling number of all is five, as in the number of starters returning from last season. That inexperience might be too much to overcome.
  • NOTABLE: Though they wear orange and black uniforms, the Tigers will look plenty green this year. Their 45-man roster features 21 sophomores, all of whom are spending their first full seasons with the varsity club in 2008.