Football coaches dont often look into the future, but State Colleges Al Wolski has asked his players to envision what Saturday morning could be like.
His Little Lions travel to Harrisburg tonight for a 7 p.m. clash with an opportunity to knock off Central Dauphin, the defending PIAA Class AAAA champion.
Weve played that up, Wolski said. Wouldnt it be great in the paper on Saturday that you read and your friends read throughout the state that State College beat the defending state champions? Weve got that as a little bit of motivation.
That being said, Wolski also said his squad (3-1) will have to play a near-perfect game to knock off the Rams (3-1).
Wolskis club needed the same type of effort last week against Harrisburg, which handed the Little Lions their first loss of the season in a dominating 33-12 decision.
Harrisburg was a good football team, Wolski said. They were bigger than us. They were faster than us. We couldnt afford to make mistakes and we had to play a perfect game to come out of there with a win which is the same this week. (The Rams) have good speed and size and they dont make a lot of mistakes. Theyre well coached and they played 16 games last year.
Central Dauphin went 15-1 in those 16 games and was tough in the clutch, winning its final five playoff games including a 14-7 decision over North Penn in the title game by a touchdown or less.
While this years team has several of the championship pieces returning, Glen McNamee said the key is to forget about celebrating what happened in Hershey last December.
The kids have done a real nice job at turning the page and understanding that its a new season, a new team, McNamee said. We have our own journey this year and theyve approached it that way. Its been nice to see.
McNamee does have several key returnees, including quarterback Brandon LaVia, but the biggest of these might just be the best player in the state linebacker/running back Zayd Issah.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder is averaging nearly nine yards per carry in limited attempts and has scored twice on the ground and three of his six receptions have gone for scores. He also leads his squad with eight tackles per game. Issah did not play in the Rams 24-7 loss to Bishop McDevitt, the Class AAA runner-up and only team to beat Central Dauphin last season.
He might be the second-best football player that Ive seen in awhile, Wolski said. Hes a good one. He can beat you by himself on both sides of the ball. Hes a real complete player. He covers ground, just a real excellent athlete. He has the size, the ability to run that you need.
Issah orally committed to Penn State, but decided to reopen his recruiting after the NCAA announced tough sanctions against the Nittany Lions in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal. McNamee said that through that tough decision and with scholarship offers from all over the country, Issah has maintained his drive in practice and on Friday nights.
Hes exceptional, McNamee said. To be that kind of recruit this day and age, its got to be challenging in so many ways. In the internet age and everywhere you turn people are talking to you asking you about the decision you have to make and through it all, hes been very focused, been a great leader and has played very well.
Even with Issah, LaVia (seven TD passes) and others, McNamee says beating State College wont be easy. His squad trailed 17-13 to the Little Lions at the half last season before it rallied to a 26-17 victory.
Ask him about State College and McNamee can nearly recite the entire starting lineup by first and last name. He said just about everything worries him about playing the Little Lions.
I dont think its a secret that theyve been a program that reloads, McNamee said. They usually have a lot of seniors and replace them the next year with more seniors, so you end up with a lot of one-year starters. They have like 11 returning starters, which is unheard of for Coach Wolski. They have experience and great size.
Its the size that worries McNamee the most since graduation forced wholesale changes on his offensive and defensive lines.
Everybody on the D-line is new and we have only one returning starter on the O-line, McNamee said. Thats the one thing thats been pleasing - the way theyve gelled and gotten better.
Wolski said hes looking forward to seeing how his team responds from last Fridays loss.
We told them to forget about it after the weekend, he said. They could hurt during the weekend and then come back ready to go to work. I said, Well see what kind of team we are when we practice on Tuesday and Wednesday. Weve had pretty good practices.
McNamee has no illusions that this will be an easy win for his defending champs.
They have a great program and this is going to be a tough, tough contest, he said. I just hope we bring our A game and we have a chance in the end.
Walt Moody can be reached at 231-4630. Follow him on Twitter @wmoodycdt