Blake Roberts, a junior, thinks the Bald Eagle Area football team can return to postseason play in 2017.
The Eagles made their last trip to the District 6 playoffs in 2013 before managing a combined six wins during three straight losing seasons. But even coming off a 3-7 campaign in 2016, Roberts feels confident in his team heading into this season.
“I’m not trying to be cocky, but I feel like we have the best athletes right here in Centre County just on this team,” said Roberts, who plays running back and safety.
The Eagles will be looking to create more opportunities for those athletes under second-year coach Jesse Nagle. The coach spent the offseason looking at his roster and making adjustments offensively and defensively to maximize their talent. He wants to see the Eagles win six or seven games in 2017 to put themselves in position for the postseason.
“Ultimately, we would be lying if we didn’t say every year we’re thinking we can compete for a District 6 title,” Nagle said. “I think we’re close. I think if we have a great work ethic and kids understand when adversity hits not to roll over, but stand up and fight. I think we have a very good shot at competing.”
Nagle started from scratch in 2016, teaching the fundamentals and offensive and defensive schemes while learning about his players’ abilities. This August, with the foundation from last season set, Nagle said the Eagles are further ahead in their preparation for the season. And Roberts said the team is closer this year and playing with energy and enthusiasm.
During a preseason practice, Nagle was quick to mention his talented athletes as he expressed his excitement for his second year.
Nagle and his staff made changes to the team’s spread offense to try to utilize their ability in different ways. The coach said the Eagles will put five wide receivers on the field at times in addition to using bunch sets.
“We feel we have 7-10 athletes that can play on Friday night at the skills positions,” Nagle said, “so we have different formations and things to try to get most of them on the field at once.”
Gage McClenahan showed his ability as a freshman last season, leading the team with 28 catches. Roberts finished among the team’s leading rushers with 242 yards and a team-high four rushing touchdowns. Matthew Reese started at wide receiver and defensive back as a freshman, too.
“Gage is just a smash-mouth. He’ll get in your face. He’ll beat you. He’s fast, he’s quick,” Roberts said. “Matt’s just — he’s really quick and really fast. They’re both like identical.”
The team’s deep group of playmakers goes beyond the trio of Roberts, McClenahan and Reese. All-state defensive lineman Rilee Bechdel made big plays in the passing game as a tight end last year (27.2 yards per catch; two touchdowns) along with Kael Gardner (17 catches) and Derek Henry (14 catches). And they’ve caught the eyes of their coach and teammates during the preseason.
“Derek Henry (has been) pulling some OBJs here and there, just one-handing it,” senior offensive/defensive lineman Cale Burkett said, referring to New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
The Eagles think they can contend for the playoffs this year with that speed and athleticism, a formula that generated success in 2013.
With Dakota Bartley powering that team’s rushing attack and Bryce and Bryan Greene forming a dynamic receiving duo, BEA finished the regular season with a 6-4 record and challenged Tyrone in a District 6 playoff loss.
This year’s group is aiming for that six-win mark with postseason aspirations.
“I think we’re going to do some damage this year,” Roberts said. “I think it’s going to be a good year.”
Bald Eagle Area
Head coach: Jesse Nagle (second season)
Last season: 3-7
Assistant coaches: Matt Masullo, Joe Nagle, Roger Proctor, Justin Taylor, Brett Umbenhouer, Colby Way
Key losses: Andrew Cohen, Hunter Hockenberry, Tanner Kresovich, Eli Myers, Mike Salvanish, Hunter Weston, Austin Young
Returning letterwinners: TE/DE — Rilee Bechdel (6-2, 205, Sr.); TE/LB — Dylan Bisel (6-2, 190, Jr.), OL/DT — Bradley Crestani (5-9, 205, Jr.); RB/DE — Andrew Dubbs (6-1, 170, Sr.); OL/DL — Kyle Gates (6-0, 220, Sr.); HB/LB — Kael Gardner (6-1, 185, Jr.); OL/DL — Kurtis Hall (6-3, 295, Sr.); ATH — Derek Henry (5-9, 165, Sr.); OL/LB — Austin Markle (5-9, 165, Jr.); RB/SS — Gage McClenahan (5-7, 165, So.); WR/DB — Matthew Reese (5-11, 180, So.); RB/DB — Blake Roberts (6-2, 185, Jr.); WR/DB —Nick Turner (5-9, 160, Jr.)
Key newcomers: OL/DL — Cale Burkett (6-2, 250, Sr.); WR — Hunter Brooks (6-1, 175, Jr.); OL/DL — Caleb Burns (6-0, 215, So.); OL/DE — Mark Eminhizer (6-7, 270, Sr.); QB/DB — Jaden Jones (5-9, 145, So.); QB — Jordan Jones (6-0, 160, Sr.); OL/DL — Nick Laird (5-10, 230, Jr.); LB — Luke McCullough (5-9, 160, Jr.); RB/DT — Ethan Moore (5-10, 210, Jr.); RB/LB — Garrett Rigg (5-7, 155, Sr.); C/DL — Dylan Roberts (5-9, 205, So.); TE/LB — Tommy Snyder (5-9, 175, So.)