It’s been a while since organized live contact on the football field has been a concern for anyone suiting up to play in Friday’s Ken Lantzy Finest 40 All-Star game at Greater Johnstown’s Trojan Stadium.
Talking to members of the North defensive unit, that long wait came with a satisfying end on Monday when teams went into contact drills in the week-long preparations for the 44th edition of the region’s football showcase.
Then again, it always seems like the defense has the upper hand more often than not in the early going of camps across the area, be it in an all-star setting or when August rolls around.
“That was the case (Monday),” North coach Greg Page, the head coach at Homer-Center, said of his defense jelling quickly. “However, in the second and third session, our offense started to get a little better footing. It’s about understanding terminology, getting timing down and different combinations of guys on offense. Defense is more read and react.”
There are changes that coaches will have to contend with when developing a defensive scheme. This year the Lantzy game – in an effort to sync up with the East-West game and the Big 33 Classic – is switching defenses to a 4-3 front instead of the 5-2 defenses of years past.
Man coverage in the secondary is also mandatory while linebackers must drop into pass coverage while teams can only rush their down linemen.
While it may not be what linebackers across the region are used to, it certainly isn’t impeding the enthusiasm of the North’s second wall.
“I like playing a fast-paced game and getting up the field,” Homer-Center linebacker Mike Newhouse said. “But I was kind of upset when I found out about the rules but it isn’t going to affect me too much. We’re still going to have fun and do our thing.”
Scott Bauer (Central Cambria), Payton Behe (Penn Cambria), Dustin Ohler (Forest Hills), Isaac Sclesky (Cambria Heights) and Micah Magley (Central Cambria) will be part of the North’s linebacking corps along with Newhouse.
On the North’s defensive line, only one player that Page lists as a lineman or end weighs less than 200 pounds with all other members checking in at 230 pounds or more.
Like the linebackers, getting out and making hits was a red-letter event for those across the line, even when some teammates battled each other in the trenches for years as rivals.
“It was kind of tough, but we’re family,” defensive lineman Micah McConnell of Cambria Heights said. “We’re on the same team, now. I get to learn stuff from him, he gets to learn stuff from me. It’s a win-win situation.”
Joining McConnell across the front will be Chestnut Ridge’s Tanner College, Bishop Guilfoyle’s Nick Little, Homer-Center’s Cody Miller, Everett’s Hunter Valentine and Penns Manor’s Luke Ruddock.
Regardless of what the rules have in store, just getting onto the field once more is enough incentive to draw smiles from some of the area’s biggest hitters.
“It’s really amazing,” Bishop Carroll defensive back Alex Repko said. “Football is like my favorite thing ever and being able to do it one more time after that big long break just feels that much sweeter.”
Repko’s Bishop Carroll teammate Brody Shuty will be a member of the North secondary along with Central Cambria’s Tanner Ambrisco, Forest Hills’ Tyler Shima, Northern Cambria’s Nolan Paronish and Purchase Line’s Gavin Ewing.
All in all, in the early portion of the week, Page appears to be optimistic with where the team is headed on the defensive side of the ball.
“We have good people at each of the three base positions,” Page said. “I’m sure the South does too. We’ve been pleasantly surprised with some guys. It’s a matter there of getting combinations of people that you want in at certain times and working with certain people. It’s a great challenge because you know the other team is going to be full of great athletes and it’s up to us to try to stop them defensively.”
Shawn Curtis is the sports editor of The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/shawncurtis430.