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By Matt Smith, PA Prep Live / Delco Times
NEWTOWN SQUARE, PA – Luke Lozowicki can remember the excitement of his first varsity football game at Marple Newtown.

He was a sophomore, and the Tigers were tasked with facing Academy Park, which had captured the District One Class AAA championship the previous year.

“I feel like I was just out here as a sophomore, getting ready to play against Academy Park,” Lozowicki said after practice Wednesday night. “It didn’t go too well…”

Marple Newtown lost that night, but the game signaled the start of a new era of Tigers football. That Friday night in 2014 was the debut for Lozowicki and then first-year coach Chris Gicking, who returned to his alma mater with soaring expectations. Fast forward two years and the Tigers are still moving in the right direction, coming off a 9-3 season that included the program’s first district playoff victory.

Lozowicki admits that time is flying by fast. For a few minutes, though, he takes it all in. No longer a wide-eyed sophomore looking to make a name for himself, Lozowicki is one of only a few veterans the Tigers have in 2016. A captain alongside Carmen Christiana, Cameron Mathes and Anthony Paoletti, Lozowicki has embraced the role of leader.

“I’ve got to step in more. It’s a lot different than being just your average player,” said Lozowicki, a 6-4, 300-pound mountain at left tackle. “You’ve got to be there to correct guys and all. It’s a tough job, because if they do something wrong, it’s kind of all on you, really, to straighten them out.”

Paoletti, a junior, is one of the most highly-touted quarterbacks in Delco. Mathes and Christiana figure to be two of Paoletti’s top weapons at wide receiver, and Lozowicki’s job is to anchor the new-look offensive and defensive line units.

“Early on it has been difficult, but as we’ve gotten closer to the season, we’ve really been bonding together and we’re doing really well out here,” Lozowicki said. “I think as a team, we’re ready.”

Lozowicki is one of the top returning linemen in the county and is garnering interest from several colleges, including Lehigh, Villanova, Colgate, Delaware and Shippensburg. He posted 18 pancakes and allowed just one sack last fall. On defense, in a part-time role, Lozowicki netted two sacks and 5.5 tackles for a loss.

Lozowicki has lost more than 20 pounds in preparation for his senior campaign.’

“We said to him, just for his own good and for college, coaches are going to want to see him have a longer motor. He has great feet. For his size, it’s really amazing to see what he can do,” Gicking said. “It’s good to see now he has even better feet and he’s able to move around more. He’s lost a good amount of weight and is in great shape. It’s good to see the way he’s moving out there and (he’s improved) his quickness. We think it will make a big difference.”

Lozowicki is lauded for his hard work in the weight room and on the field. He said one of his personal goals was to improve his agility.

“I dropped some weight to get my footwork up. I wanted to be quicker off the ball,” he said. “I like working on my pass sets, even though I’m comfortable with them. More mobility, really. I went to my trainer this year to get my mobility and flexibility up. That was all important for me.”

Friday night, Lozowicki and the Tigers host Archbishop Carroll and first-year coach Dan Connor, the two-time Daily Times Player of the Year who was a part of four District One championship teams at Strath Haven from 2000-03. The ex-NFL linebacker and Penn State Nittany Lion will make his high school coaching debut on the opposite sideline of his good buddy Gicking. While the Patriots haven’t notched a winning season since 2007, Gicking knows that with Connor at the helm, the Tigers are in for a fight.

“Danny, being one of my good friends, I texted him the other day and asked him, ‘Where did this team come from?’” Gicking said. “This is a totally different team. Between Danny coming in and the new coaches and the kids who transferred in over there … they’re really good. They’ll be a really good challenge for us Friday night. I’m looking forward to it.”

For Carroll, snior quarterback Stephen Honick has experience running the offense and wide receiver/defensive back Khadir Roberts is a threat in open space. As Gicking would attest, don’t let Carroll’s struggles last year fool you.

“We have to be ready, I can tell you that much,” Gicking said.

Hey, that’s exactly what Lozowicki is here for, making sure his teammates are on the same page.

“We’re going to come in every week and we’re going to compete,” he said.

And that’s precisely what Gicking likes to hear.

“Luke, Cameron, Anthony and Carmen are four great leaders and they have all stepped up to fulfill that role,” Gicking said. “As far as Luke goes, he’ll be a little more vocal out there and that is very important because we’re a young team.”