Forget about getting Shorty, the South defense is getting geared up to cover North quarterbacks Danny Ferens of Penns Manor and Nathan Bearer of Cambria Heights on Friday night in the 43rd annual Ken Lantzy Finest 40 All-Star Football Game.
Oh, and the Rebs, who won 44-6 last year, will also be working on containing the rest of the Yankees’ offense as well.
“I think our defense is coming together really well,” South defensive coordinator Roger Beitel of Ligonier Valley said. “We’re getting the kids running to the football and tackling and that’s two of the most important things in terms of what you want to do defensively because a lot of these kids haven’t tackled since the end of their seasons last year. There are so many things that you can’t do in the game, that you’re handcuffed with so with what we can do with the fronts and the coverages, the kids are coming together nicely.”
Ferens holds several records for scoring and rushing. In the fall he rushed for 1,818 yards on 159 carries and finished his career with 5,563 yards on the ground, as well as accumulating a total of 7,813 yards as a Comet. In addition, Bearer threw for 873 yards last year, going 49 of 102.
“I’ve seen up close for the last four years what Ferens can do,” said Beitel, who last coached in the Lantzy game in 2007 with Andy Stahl of Meyersdale. “He backs up as though he’s going to throw and the defense backs off and he takes off or lobs a short pass to an open player.
“The good thing about the game is that the two quarterbacks cannot be on the field at the same time. We will adjust. The coverages are what it is going to come down to. You are regulated with the seven people that have to come so it’s real simple - get to the quarterback.”
Several of the players on the South defense have moved to different positions and are adjusting to the new responsibilities.
Meyersdale’s Chris Schrock, who was a cornerback during the regular season, is a free safety for the Lantzy game.
“The defense is something that we didn’t run at Meyersdale so it’s a little bit new,” Schrock said. “It was pretty easy to pick up. Coach Beitel designed most of it and it’s kind of unique so we’re hoping that it will stop the North on Friday night and give us a chance to win. I love the way that we swarm to the ball and everyone has a great attitude. We have prepared on defense for Ferens so we should all be ready.”
The other defensive backs include Phillip Madison of Greater Johnstown, Brock Medva of Shade, Brantley Rice of North Star and Blake Miller of Berlin Brothersvalley.
Windber’s Trevor Neri moved from playing linebacker for the Ramblers to defensive end for the Lantzy game.
“I’ve been playing linebacker for the last year now so it’s kind of difficult to get back to playing end again, but they are very similar,” Neri said. “Defenses swarm to the ball so it wasn’t that big of an adjustment.
“Our line is looking really strong and aggressive. I think that we will be all right on Friday night. We have to contain the North’s quarterbacks.”
Ryan Siwy of Bishop McCort is the other defensive end. The other South linemen are Gap Barbin of Bishop McCort, Hayes Salancy of Ligonier Valley, Mitchell Walker of Berlin, Shane Almodovar of Windber, Ken Domonkos of Conemaugh Township, Dylan Glessner of Shade, Nick Roberts of Conemaugh Valley, Josh Dininny of Richland and Caleb Brougher of Rockwood.
Barbin will be rotating between nose guard and defensive tackle.
“Having an entire unit of all-stars, it’s a cool thing and is really special,” Barbin said. “I think at first we struggled a little bit with techniques and not playing with each other and then as the week has gone on, it’s coming together. You have to be open to adjustments.
“Obviously the North has some pretty talented players on offense, but I think our team speed on defense matches up well with it. Hopefully we can win the battle on the line of scrimmage.”
Beitel says there are four linebackers on the squad - Dalvin Williams of Johnstown, Grant Riegel of Blacklick Valley, Jacob Nickelson of Somerset and Mason Kuntz of Saltsburg,
“There may only be four of them but they are physical and they are making plays,” Beitel said.
Barbin noted that it has been a relatively easy transition to go from being rivals to becoming teammates and friends.
“I think there is a certain level of respect that once you are seniors and you are finished playing that people are looking forward to what’s ahead for them and to the game on Friday night,” Barbin said. “Coming from my perspective we left the field in November on a low note. This is a little bit of chance to get closure and go out the way that we would like to.”
Beitel said the South defensive players have been a good group to work with.
“They are a very quiet bunch,” Beitel said. “You look at the quiet group we have that’s going about its business and you have the North that’s yelling. Hopefully our kids aren’t in shock and that’s why they’re quiet and they are set to go on Friday.”
Notes: Schrock’s cousin, Mike Burkholder of Meyersdale, played in the Lantzy game, and told him to make the most of it. Schrock’s father, Chris, is also one of the assistant coaches for the South.
“I was glad that he was able to be one of the coaches for this game,” the younger Schrock said. “We butt heads sometimes, but he coaches me and I do what he tells me to and it works out for the best. It’s been a great experience to finish up my career.”