By TIM BIRNEY
Valley Sports Report
TIOGA CENTER — Tioga has won seven of the last eight Section IV, Class D championships, and coach Nick Aiello said his young team in 2019 wants to be a part of the winning tradition.
(Tioga opens the 2019 season Friday night when it hosts Walton.)
“If there’s pressure, it’s good pressure,” said Aiello. “The kids want to be part of the winning tradition, so they were at our workouts all summer long.
“The team we’ll put on the field Friday night … there are not many kids out there that missed many workouts this summer,” he noted. “It’s pretty obvious these kids have put in the work to be part of the success we’ve had, but they also have to get it done on the field.
“I think a big key to this season is improvement. You can talk about the Section IV championships, but if you look back we haven’t won a season-opener since 2015,” added Aiello. “Last year, we started off 1-2, but it was about improvement. Win or lose, we have to keep improving if we want to put ourselves in position by the end of the season to reach certain goals — that’s the message.”
Junior Ryan Rockwell will anchor the offensive line at center, with senior Aaron Howard starting at left guard, and sophomore Chris Walsh at right guard. Junior Cole Williams will start at left tackle, and senior Dom Wood, the lone starter from last year’s offensive line, will start at right tackle.
Senior Caleb Ward will work in at both tackle spots, and senior Bryce Mashas will see action at both guard spots.
Senior Brady Worthing returns at quarterback, while sophomore Emmett Wood returns at tailback.
Junior Ethan Agan, and 8th-grader Ethan Perry will serve as back-up quarterbacks, and sophomore Gavin Godfrey will see time at tailback.
Junior Sloan Manuel and senior David MacWhinnie will both see action at fullback, and sophomore Issac Peterson will likely see time there as well.
The Tigers will utilize senior Thomas Cook and junior Derrick Gage at tight end, while returning starter Mason Booser will start in the slot, with junior Jerrick Allen, and Perry also seeing time there. Senior Kyle Lunger and junior Seth Franks will split time at split end.
“I think our strength on offense will show up by midseason,” said Aiello. “I think the strength of this offense is going to be how well the kids learn the system, and how much we improve up front.
“If we can get clicking up front, we know we have a quarterback and some backs who can really take advantage.
“I also think this is the year where we could really be more diverse in our offense because we have some skill players we can really rely on,” noted Aiello. “When you start looking at some of our athletes, and I’m not talking about just Emmett (Wood) and Brady (Worthing), but our tight ends Thomas Cook and Derrick Gage, and our split ends Seth Franks and Kyle Lunger, I think we’ll be able to spread the ball around. I think our fullbacks could also be a big piece of the puzzle, too.
“If we can the system we have in mind in place, and get kids to really learn their jobs, I think that will be our strength,” he added.
With just four starters returning on offense, Aiello’s main concern is a lack of varsity experience.
“We just need game experience up front, and I think those first two games will help a lot with that,” he said. “I’m really glad we have four games before we get into divisional play.
“The speed of the game, and the way you need to get off the ball is our biggest concern right now,” added Aiello.
Dom Wood, Walsh, Howard, and Williams will all see time at defensive end, but Aiello notes “we could use smaller, more athletic guys like (junior) Evan Hubbard and (sophomore) Matt Watson there.
Ward, junior Dakota Hawley, Rockwell, and Mashas, as well as Howard and Williams will see time at defensive tackle.
“We have a stable of defensive linemen. I think it’s going to be about finding the combination of guys we want on the field for each game,” said Aiello.
Emmett Wood has moved up to linebacker, where he’ll be joined by Manuel, and a rotation of Cook and Gage in Tioga’s 4-3 defense. Junior Jacob Fethers, sophomore Justin Hopkins, Peterson and Godfrey will also see time at linebacker.
“We have all new faces at linebacker,” said Aiello.
Franks and Booser will start at cornerback, with Lunger another option there, while Worthing and MacWhinnie will start at cornerback, with Godfrey and Allen also in the mix.
“As opposed to years past, I feel like we have a little bit of depth in the secondary,” said Aiello. “We have some kids with some JV experience, we just need to get them varsity experience.
“Godfrey will be kind of a utility player for us, playing linebacker or safety,” he added.
Aiello believes his defense has a chance to be a good one.
“I think once we get these kids playing fast, I think this could be a very fast defense, with them flying to the ball,” he said. “We have a lot of speed.
“I think the defense needs to be our strength because it kind of fits our personnel more, where they’re playing and what they can do on the field.
“I see as the season evolves, the defense could be a real strength for us,” added Aiello.
And, Aiello’s concern?
“Like the offense, we need game experience.”
On special teams, Worthing will handle the kicking and punting chores, while Cook will take care of the long-snapping duties.
Wood, Worthing, Booser, and Godfrey will handle the punt and kick return duties.
AROUND DIVISION VI
Tioga will compete in Section IV, Division VI, along with Greene, Moravia, and Groton.
“Greene is definitely the team to watch,” said Aiello. “They return quite a few skill players, and one of the best players at any level in Nate Erickson. He’s a stud and a game-changer.
“Erickson can put the team on his back and win games for them, but he also has a really good supporting cast around him.
“We definitely have that date circled,” added Aiello. “We’ll be on the road on the turf on a Friday night. It’s going to be a real tough game for us.”
AROUND CLASS D
“I know we’re the returning champions, but it’s going to be tough to get out of Section IV this year,” said Aiello.
“Walton only graduated one starter. I think the road (to States) is through them this year,” he added. “We open up with them, so we’ll see what they’re all about, and it will be a good measuring stick of where we’re at.”
IN PHOTO: Tioga coach Nick Aiello.
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