Bellefonte coach Shanon Manning has a new plan on offense.
After relying heavily on the running game last season, the Red Raiders will be more balanced. The coach predicted they’ll run the ball on 60-65 percent of plays, giving quarterback Chase Gardner an opportunity to spread the ball around to his receivers in a new offensive system.
Will it translate to a more exciting brand of football?
“I’ll tell you if those bulbs look different up there instead of zeros and sevens and 14s, if they look like 28s, 35s and 42s,” Manning said.
The Red Raiders struggled to find the end zone at times a year ago, averaging 10 points per game in their seven losses. Manning thinks this group is capable of putting up more points and pushing the program forward after suffering a handful of close defeats, but his players still have to prove they can execute.
They’ll be running a pro-style offense instead of the Wing-T when they open the season against Jersey Shore on Friday night.
Throughout his career, Manning was part of teams that ran pro-style offenses, so he’s comfortable with the new system. He reached out to fellow coaches to talk about the offense during the offseason, and he had to brush up on some of the terminology.
“It’s kind of like speaking French to Spanish, so I had to go from one to the other,” Manning said. “But I was learning it quickly because a lot of it was just a reminder more than a learning process.”
Gardner started to learn the system in May.
He has a good grasp of the offense now, and he’s ready to take over at quarterback.
The senior attempted just 10 passes a year ago.
But Manning said the dual-threat quarterback has shown improvement. He has the ability to throw on the run, and he’s capable of burning defenses with his legs.
The new offense will showcase those talents.
“We have the option of me spreading everything out and reading one guy and pretty much making him have to decide whether he’s going to crash on the running back,” Gardner said, “and if he does, I just keep it.”
Manning said the pro-style offense better fits the team’s personnel.
The Red Raiders have more wide receivers and fewer running backs after losing three of their top four rushers.
Austin Jackson, who led the team with 1,027 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns in 2015, was part of that group.
Manning said Dylan Deitrich and Dexter Gallishaw are in a tight race to take over at running back.
Gardner has been impressed by Gallishaw during the preseason.
“He’s going to do big things for us,” Gardner said of Gallishaw, who ran for 94 yards and one touchdown on 16 carries last year. “He’s a freak. He’s fast. He’s a big, strong kid, he’ll run you over. You never know what to expect out of him.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Bellefonte returns veterans in linebacker Stephen Kutches and defensive back Tyler Kreger.
Kutches is the team’s leading returning tackler. He’ll be joined at linebacker by Gallishaw, Austin Stock, Garrett Kutches and Garrett McCauley. Kreger will lead the secondary after starting the past two seasons.
Eli Lipscomb, Tanner Helms and Luke Lambert are among the returning players on the defensive line.
Kutches said the team hopes to finish with a .500 or better record this year. The Red Raiders suffered some tough losses last year, falling 14-6 to Jersey Shore, 28-17 to John Marshall and 20-14 in overtime to Chestnut Ridge.
“A lot of those games they just came down to one play,” Kutches said. “... Chestnut Ridge, it was a trick play that lost us the game. So I think we just got to be a little more cautious this year of things like that.”
Manning echoed Kutches’ point, saying his team knows a few plays proved to be the difference.
The Red Raiders are looking to avoid the little mistakes, and they’re hoping for more production out of their new offense.
“They’re going to have to execute,” Manning said. “There’s only so many things as a coach you can do. You can put ’em in the right place at the right time with the right play call. The execution on the field ends up being ultimately up to them.”
Head coach: Shanon Manning (fourth season)
Assistant coaches: Terry Bumgardner, Barry Jones, Bob Sealy, Evan Reese, Drew Gensimore
Last season: 3-7
Key losses: Austin Jackson, Nick Jabco, Dillon Kephart, Patrick Johnsonbaugh, Kellen Moss, Conor Rigg
Key returnees: Tyler Kreger, Stephen Kutches, Chase Gardner, Tanner Helms, Eli Lipscomb, Luke Lambert
Key newcomers: Tyton Brown, Colton Burd, Noah Badger, Chris Perdido, CJ Funk