With key personnel losses from last season’s District 6-9 championship team, State College is looking for new faces to go along with a remodeled Memorial Field to help nab a sixth-consecutive crown.
Few starters return from last year, which brings a measure of uncertainty. However, the Little Lions still have a familiar face in senior quarterback Patrick Irwin.
“My mindset is to just have a positive outlook on everything,” Irwin said. “I’m not trying to get down and negative about anything. I’m really excited for the season and I know the whole team is.”
Andrew Kelly, Ebrahim Britton and Ryan Goeke graduated after leading a potent ground attack last season. The senior do-it-all tandem of Dan Fry and Darian Herncane is also gone.
What remains are question marks at critical positions, but Irwin says his teammates are ready for the opportunity.
“We have a few guys returning on offense that are looking forward to stepping up and having a huge role in the offensive system this year,” he said. “But I’m also looking forward to some underclassmen helping to step up and help our team win some games this year.”
Head coach Al Wolski had 100 players come out this year, and they will all serve various functions.
However, a few must emerge to continue the strength of the Little Lions program.
“Our skill guys,” Wolski said. “Guys who you could always rely on. Going from Goeke to Kelly to Britton to Fry and Herncane. They were all guys you could count on making a play. We’re still trying to find guys that we can count on to make plays.”
One of those players could be running back/wide receiver Jordan Misher.
“He runs with vision and when he does make a cut it’s at full speed,” Wolski said. “It doesn’t take him a while to get up to full speed — his first step is at full speed. Only a sophomore, but runs very well. Not just a straight-ahead kind of guy. Hard worker and hasn’t required a ton of motivation. A pleasure to work with as a sophomore.”
Irwin, who threw for more than 1,400 yards and rushed for more than 400, will also need to be one of those key guys.
In preparation, Irwin hit the weight room in the offseason and weighs 196-pounds after playing at 170 as a junior. Extra pounds should help absorb blows because Wolski said the offensive line should be stronger this season, which will likely mean more carries.
Seniors Adam Deboef, Jordan Good, Austin Peck and junior Zach Driver are just a few of the 20 or so linemen that Wolski said will call on for road-grading up front.
Defensively, Wolski said Anthony Misher and Jordan Misher have looked good on the corners, an area that Fry, Herncane and Britton labeled a “no fly zone” last season.
Senior linebackers Pat Begg and Ben Roeshot will help anchor the interior.
In addition to underclassmen contributing, a deep class of seniors should also help replace elements from last season.
Wolski said the mark of this team will likely be its senior leadership, which it will need for a tough Mid-Penn conference and a difficult non-conference schedule.
The Little Lions open the season Aug. 31 at Liberty in Bethlehem. The home opener follows Sept. 6 against Central Mountain followed by a Sept. 13 matchup with defending West Virginia Class AAA state champ Martinsburg.
Wolski said the players have enjoyed the new, softer turf at Memorial and he thinks fans will like the refurbished stadium as well. A section of bleachers was closed last fall because of a sinkhole.
“We have a renewed Memorial Field,” he said. “We have a new turf field and we have new stands, so it’s kind of an exciting time.”
State College hosts defending Class AAAA state champ Central Dauphin Sept. 27.
A challenging schedule awaits for sure, but Irwin tries to keep team goals in perspective.
“We’re hoping we get further than the district title, but district title is our first goal right now other than winning against Bethlehem in our regular season (opener),” he said. “But I know everyone has their eyes on the prize for the District 6 title this year, so it’s going to be a great season.”