NEWTOWN SQUARE — Adrian Sapnas was a revelation at Marple Newtown last autumn.
Then a junior, Sapnas earned a role in the starting backfield in the middle of the season and never looked back, racking up an impressive 769 yards and seven touchdowns, while averaging 7.3 yards per tote.
Sapnas transferred from Cardinal O’Hara after his sophomore year. Initially, he planned on attending Neumann-Goretti.
“But that didn’t work out, so I came here,” he said.
Sapnas’ teammates are thankful that he eventually found his way into a Tigers uniform.
Sapnas is looking forward to being a bigger factor in 2014, along with fellow backfield mate Abel Hoff, who rushed for 649 yards and five touchdowns as a sophomore.
“I’ve been working very hard,” Sapnas said. “You can ask anybody that knows me that I’ve been working my butt off for this season. I’m ready.”
Sapnas is one of two electrifying talents who will take the bulk of carries in first-year coach Chris Gicking’s offense. Gicking, who passed for a county-record 5,897 yards from 1993-95 at Marple Newtown, naturally emphasizes a pass-oriented attack, but balance is ideal.
“In this offense, the quarterback throws the ball a lot, so we’re going to count on our quarterback to make things happen,” said Gicking, who is replacing Ray Gionta, the program’s all-time wins leader. “We’ll count on Adrian and Abel, but to be honest, we’re going to count on the quarterback even more. And nothing works without good play and blocking from our O-line and tight ends.”
Following a disappointing three-win season, the Tigers are excited to usher in a new era with Gicking calling the shots, while hopefully making some headway in the Central League.
“We have more kids this year and the attitude is different,” Hoff said. “Everyone has learned to work harder and nobody is slacking off. We have a goal to reach and we’re always there to pick each other up. That’s what I like about this team this year.”
Gicking spent the last seven of his 13 seasons at Conestoga as the team’s offensive coordinator. As he put it, the system will be a “mirror image” to what the Pioneers have been running for years.
Marcus Weathers is slated to be the opening-night starting quarterback.The junior is a multi-faceted talent who can scramble out of the pocket and throw accurate strikes, attributes that Gicking perfected during his scholastic years. Weathers (6-0, 155) completed 11 of 25 pass attempts in a backup role in 2013.
“As of now, he’s our quarterback. He’s earned the right to be there,” Gicking said. “We’re going to depend on him a lot.”
In addition to Sapnas and Hoff, other returning starters include junior two-way lineman Kyle Kelly (6-2, 225) and junior offensive lineman/linebacker Matt McKee. Kelly is getting his first crack on the defensive line and is the team’s starting left tackle.
“I didn’t play D-end last year, I did a lot of rotating at linebacker,” Kelly said. “I thought that, since I’m one of the team’s bigger players, I’d move to D-line and let our faster players step in and play linebacker.”
Some players, including projected starters Lucas and Adriel Maas (running back/linebacker), are returning from injury-plagued seasons and expected to be big contributors this fall.
“We have a chip on our shoulder,” Sapnas said. “We’re very disappointed about last season. We feel as though we could have been a lot better. … It was a young team; most of our starters were young, and it was a tough season. Everybody on this team is working hard and I’m definitely proud of these guys.”
Gicking knows there will be some growing pains in the beginning, but the result should be a positive one.
“This team has worked very hard, doing speed and agility stuff. We’re going to put in the time, work as hard as we can, we’re going to be good people not only on the field but in the community, and we’re going to give everything we’ve got,” Gicking said. “We’re going to be a disciplined team that plays with a lot of energy and emotion — get after it and see what happens.”
The first challenge will be a daunting one. The Tigers kick off the season in Sharon Hill against reigning District One champion Academy Park, the same team that handed them a 38-7 loss at Harry R. Harvey Stadium in Week 1 of last year.
“We’re going to try our best,” Kelly said. “Beating Academy Park would be more special than some other games. They’re the district champs and I know they lost a lot of guys to graduation. Our team is getting better and better and I can see it from last year. We weren’t as good as we are this year … and a lot of credit goes to the coaches. They’re doing everything for us and we want to be better football players for them. Going into Sharon Hill on Aug. 29, no one is counting on us to win. Everyone is going to be on Academy Park’s side, but it would be nice to open our season with a win. That’s our goal right now.”