By John Kopp, Delaware County Times
September 04, 2009
Clearly, most don’t have the lush practice facilities. But from a tactical standpoint, high school coaches lack the preseason time allotted their college and pro brethren, who have spring practices and minicamps to determine their teams’ strengths and weaknesses.
Thus, Marple Newtown coach Ray Gionta had a couple weeks to configure his team. He said he doesn’t expect to fully know what he has until a couple weeks into the season.
“It’s tough to tell,” Gionta said. “They interview Joe Paterno and he says, ‘I don’t know.’ I believe you don’t actually know until you get out there and scrimmage and have a couple games. In high school football, it’s even more difficult.”
Gionta plans to use the season’s early portion to tinker with his team.
Carl Kasarsky, an All-Central honorable mention last season, spent some of camp playing both fullback and inside linebacker, instead of his customary tight end and outside linebacker positions.
“He’s a tough kid and I know he can get some tough yards for us,” Gionta said in reference to Kasarsky’s fullback abilities.
Kasarsky said the reads and coverage packages are different as an inside linebacker, but that he hasn’t had trouble with the transition.
“I try to get to the ball a little bit more inside,” the senior said. “Outside, it was pretty much containing and keeping the ball inside, but inside, you’re just flying to the ball.”
Gionta is counting on Kasarsky to help the Tigers’ defense return to its stingy ways. The Tigers surrendered at least 21 points in their first five games last year, which not surprisingly, ended with losses.
The defense began to click midway through the season, holding opponents to seven points or fewer in four of the Tigers’ final seven games. They won six of those contests.
“It’s really going to boil down to how well we can play defense,” Gionta said. “Last year, we were shell-shocked. Last year we kind of had some problems. Overall, we think we’re more athletic.”
In particular, Gionta said, the defense needs to do a better job of tackling in the open field and handling power running backs.
Gionta said most of the team’s strengths lay in the offense, where he has an experienced line protecting veteran quarterback Kevin Johnson, who threw for 567 yards and five touchdowns while rushing for five scores last year.
The offensive line is secured by Kevan Strigle, a 6-2, 260 pound senior who also starts on the defensive line. Each of the line’s starters return, which Strigle said enhanced the line’s compatibility. Last year, Strigle said it took the line’s members until midway through the year to gain each other’s trust. They already had that trust entering camp this year.
“We’re another step up already,” Strigle said. “It just carries up. Like last year, we were still learning the basic plays. We’re moving on; we’re getting more advanced. We’re all comfortable. We know the other guy is going to do his job.”
Despite the experienced line, Gionta is waiting for a consistent offensive threat to emerge to aid Johnson, an All-Central honorable mention. Last year, he had Phil Graziano, who rushed for 1,451 yards and 11 touchdowns as a senior.
“Right now, we don’t have a go-to guy on offense,” Gionta said. “We’re either going to be a team by committee or somebody is going to emerge from this group. Hopefully, it will be a combination of the two.”
Gionta said he’s hoping fullbacks Ryan Duffy and Kasarsky develop into a solid backfield tandem.
“We’re hoping maybe one guy is a tougher runner and the other guy is maybe a quicker guy,” Gionta said.
The same players Gionta relies upon on offense will be the same guys he needs to step up on defense, too.
Like most smaller schools, the Tigers don’t have the depth necessary to warrant a different set of starters on each side of the ball. So, even the quarterback Johnson plays defense.
“We’re like an injury away from disaster, as most teams are,” Gionta said. “But we’re cautiously optimistic.”
Though Gionta said he’d ideally like to limit the amount of two-way players, Johnson said he wasn’t bothered by doing double-time. In fact, he said he enjoys it.
“I get time off on special teams, so that’s good,” Johnson said with a wry smile.
Johnson may be soft-spoken, but he forms a balanced captain’s role with Strigle, who tends to be just a bit more outspoken.
“He leads by example; he’s by far the best player out here,” Strigle said. “You can’t do more than him. He’s certainly a great player.
“I’m trying to always scream, blow out my lungs. I’m just trying to get them enthused.”
Getting off to a quick start would help keep the Tigers naturally enthused. And it also likely would help Gionta figure out exactly what type of talent he has.
TIGERS AT A GLANCE:
n 2008 RECORD: 6-6 (4-6, Central League).
n HEAD COACH: Ray Gionta (Seventh season at Marple Newtown: 39-28; Overall: 98-92-1).
n STAFF: Lou D’Alonzo, Mike Doyle, Steve Cull, Ted Carotenuto, Gary Molineux, Larry Kelly, Dan Scarboro, Larry Paoletti.
n KEY RETURNEES: Kevin Johnson (QB-CB) 6-1, 190; Carl Kasarsky (TE-LB) 6-2, 210; Kevan Strigle (OT-DE) 6-2, 260; Christian Whiteside (OT-DT) 6-2, 250; Ryan White (HB-CB) 5-10, 170; Steve De Maria (G-LB) 6-1, 195; Brian Kelly (G-LB) 6-0, 185; Mario Dioguardi (HB-LB-DB) 5-9, 170; Adam Fender(K) 6-0, 160; Ryan Duffy (RB-DB) 5-9, 175; Pete Finegan (OL-DL) 6-3, 250;Vince Christiana (SE-DB) 6-0, 170; Tevin Gilbert (DT) 6-0, 305.
n TOP NEWCOMERS: Anthony Di Luzio (DT) 5-11, 180; T.J. Fite (C-DT) 5-9, 250; Matt Gregory (TE-LB) 6-0, 185; Johnnie Watkins (SE-RB-DB) 5-9, 155;Ryan Furst (TE-LB) 6-3, 175.
n OUTLOOK: After dropping their first five contests last season, the Tigers rallied to go 6-1 in their last seven games. They return an experienced offensive line and quarterback, but to be successful, they’ll need to fill their holes at inside linebacker.
n NOTABLE: Ray Gionta needs just two wins to earn his 100th career coaching victory.
Conestoga 21, Marple Newtown 6
Strath Haven 36, Marple Newtown 0
Garnet Valley 41, Marple Newtown 13
Haverford 30, Marple Newtown 0
Springfield 21, Marple Newtown 17
Marple Newtown 24, Radnor 7
Marple Newtown 14, Lower Merion 6
Ridley 27, Marple Newtown 7
Marple Newtown 35, Upper Darby 27
Marple Newtown 38, Harriton 6
Marple Newtown 38, St. Pius X 6
Marple Newtown 17, Academy Park 16