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NTL FOOTBALL: GORMAN HOPING EXPERIENCED LINE CAN CARRY REDSKINS TO SUCCESS IN 2020 (2020-09-11)

By TIM BIRNEY
Valley Sports Report
SAYRE — Sayre graduated its best running back, and three top receivers, then lost junior QB Brayden Horton last weekend in its scrimmage at Canton, but third-year coach Kevin Gorman is hopeful an experienced group of linemen will help the Redskins continue their winning ways in 2020.

Gorman, whose record of 14-8 is the best two-year stretch for Sayre football since 1980-81, is crestfallen over Brayden Horton’s thumb injury, which may cost him the entire season.

“It’s a big blow,” said Gorman. “It really sucks the way it happened, too.

“We were playing him on defense (in the scrimmage) just to get him a few reps if we ever needed him there in an emergency,” noted Gorman.” We were only going to play him five snaps, and on the fifth snap he got hurt.

“I’ve been kicking myself,” added Gorman. “I thought at one point about not giving him any snaps on defense, and that he’d figure it out if he needed to play, but then I decided to give him some live action.”

Sophomore Lucas Horton, Brayden’s cousin, will take the reigns at QB.

“(Lucas) has been with us since he was in 8th-grade,” said Gorman. “He has all the tools. He has a very good arm, and he can run like Brayden. The difference is he doesn’t have the starting experience.

“It’s bound to be a bit nerve-racking for him to make his first start against Athens in the Rusty Rail game,” noted Gorman. “He’s replacing his cousin, so I’m sure there’s a bit of pressure from all sides, but I don’t have any doubt he will step up and do the job.”

The injury was a double-whammy for the Redskins as Gorman will also have to replace his top returning wide receiver — Lucas Horton.

“Luke was basically the only receiver coming back with any receiving stats, so it hurts us there, too,” said Gorman.

“I think we’re deep at receiver, but it’s a situation where several of our receivers are getting their first meaningful varsity snaps at wide receiver,” he added. “It definitely hurts us, but at the same time I think we’ll find some kids who will step up and fill that void.”

Juniors Dom Fabbri, Josh Arnold, and Dylan Watkins, seniors Matt Lane, Tavone McClenny, Jake Burgess, and Bobby Benjamin, and sophomore Jackson Hubbard are all candidates to replace a Sayre trio of receivers — Corbin Brown, Ethan Miller, and Zach Watkins, who combined for 970 receiving yards and 11 TDs.

“Dom Fabbri and Matt Lane played a little bit last year, so I expect those two to step up,” said Gorman. “Jackson Hubbard didn’t play his freshman year, but came back out this year. He is picking everything up quickly, and he’s a big target like Luke, about 6-2 and lengthy.

“Josh Arnold has been with us for three years. He understands the offense, and he can bring in balls,” noted Gorman. ”Tavone (McClenny) should be right there with him, he’s fast.

“It’s not going to be three players replacing three players,” added Gorman. “I think it’s going to be a group of players replacing those three guys.”

The Redskins are also looking to replace Isaiah Firestine, who rushed for 1,099 yards and 14 TDs.

Juniors David Northrop and Jake Bennett, sophomore Zach Garrity, and senior Logan Chapman are expected to get the majority of touches at running back.

“Honestly, replacing a player like Isaiah (Firestine) isn’t easy,” said Gorman. “He was a real bell-cow back … that’s a lot of production we’ll have to replace.

“I don’t think we have a kid who is going to handle the ball 30 times a game,” noted Gorman. “I expect all four running backs to replace the production, whoever the hot hand is, we’ll ride for a while.”

The strength of the team, says Gorman, is the offensive line, which will be anchored by juniors Nik Polzella and Cayden Firestine, who will both see time at center.

Senior Zach Bellis and junior Ethan Ray will man the guard spits, with Polzella also slated to see time there.

Seniors Jordan Goodrich and Gavin Rucker will start at tackles, with sophomore Austin Malinowski and Ray providing depth.

Sophomore Glen Romberger will start at the H-Back / tight end spot.

“We have a lot of experience up front, so we knew coming in our offensive line was going to be a strength. We’re kind of hoping we ride those guys moving people around on both sides of the ball,” said Gorman. “We’re hoping the offensive line can jump-start the offense.

“We have Jordan Goodrich and Zach Bellis back for their third year starting, and Nik Polzella, Gavin Rucker, Cayden Firestine, Ethan Ray, and Seth Lattimer, who started for us as a freshman but didn’t play last year, all have a bunch of starts under their belts, too.

“It’s nice to have all those guys back,” added Gorman. “They’ve been with coach (Larry) Hanafin for three years now and understand their roles, and all their blocking assignments.”

Gorman says lack of game experience at the skill positions is his biggest concern on offense.

“Obviously Brayden’s injury hurts, but we always talk about ‘next man up,’ and I think Lucas is ready to take on the challenge,” he said.

“My biggest concern is our lack of experience,” noted Gorman. “Playing under the lights for the first time, especially in a big game like the Rusty Rail, can test you. Some kids will shy away from it, and some kids step up — those are the kids we’re looking for.

“The kids seem confident and ready to go, but it’s a different story when it goes live Friday night,” Gorman added.

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Defensively, Polzella, Bellis, Lattimer will all see time at nose tackle in the 3-4 scheme, with Goodrich, junior Donovan Wynn, Bellis, Lattimer, Romberger, and Firestine vying for time at defensive end.

Goodrich and Firestine will start at outside linebacker, with Chapman also seeing time there.

Northrop, Bennett, Garrity, and Chapman will see action at inside linebacker, with Northrop also bumping outside if needed.

“We have good depth at linebacker, with some experience,” said Gorman.

Watkins and Fabbri will see a lot of time at cornerback, with Lane, Arnold, McClenny, and Benjamin also seeing action. Seniors Nic Bentley and Torry Stark will provide depth.

Watkins, Lucas Horton, Arnold, and Hubbard will vie for time at safety.

Gorman faces a similar problem on defense as he does with his offense.

“Replacing Isaiah (Firestine) on defense will be hard, too, not only from a production standpoint, but what he brought in terms of intensity,” said Gorman. “And, his relentlessness to the ball will be difficult to replace.

“I think it starts up front with our experience there,” noted Gorman. “We have some big kids up front who are tough to move.

“At linebacker, Jake (Bennett), David (Northrop), and Zach (Garrity) all played basically every snap for us last year. David and Jake were two of our top three tacklers,” continued Gorman. “Zach (Garrity) got a lot of experience last year, and Logan (Chapman) is kind of like a Swiss Army knife, he can play inside or outside — and it’s always nice to have that flexibility.”

Speaking of flexibility, Gorman is thankful for that and his team’s depth.

“It’s nice to have the depth and flexibility we have (in the front seven),” he said. “Coach (Scott) Harbst and I have talked about the depth we have up front, and it’s the first year we’ve really had it.

“I’m definitely pleased with the depth, especially up front, and with the fact we have several guys who can play multiple positions,” added Gorman. “I always tell the guys if you want to get on the field, being able to play multiple positions is a good way to get out there.”

Gorman notes replacing five seasoned veteran in the secondary is one of his main worries.

“I think my biggest concern is probably our secondary,” he said. “Lucas (Horton) is the only one to get time back there last year, and he split time at safety. We lost five kids from the secondary who played a lot of football for us the last two years.

“I know our young guys know their positions, but it’s about getting comfortable with route combinations and a few other things,” noted Gorman. “We try to give it to them in practice, but a game is different than practice — it’s a different speed.

“The secondary is definitely a concern, but we have depth and we’ll keep throwing guys out there until we find the four who work the best together and stick with them,” he added.

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Senior Nic Bentley will handle the kicking duties, while Lucas Horton will handle the punting chores, and Romberger will take care of the long-snapping, with Fabbri and Northrop available if needed.

Northrop, Garrity, Bennett, Watkins, Fabbri, and Hubbard are the leading candidates to handle the kick and punt return duties.

“Whoever will actually catch the ball back there, instead of letting it bounce, will be the guy,” laughed Gorman.

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Covid-19 has resulted in a unique schedule for 2020. A schedule that will result in no division champions being recognized, and it’s questionable if there will be a postseason. So what does Gorman use to motivate his charges?

“Two months ago, we didn’t even know if we were going to have a season,” said Gorman. “I tell the guys to play every week like it’s their last game because with the uncertainty created by Covid, it could be.

“We’re having a short season, and we don’t know if we’ll have playoffs, so we’re approaching every game like it’s the biggest game of the year, and there’s no tomorrow,” Gorman noted. “The guys have really latched on to that.

“The guys just want to play. We’re getting an opportunity we didn’t think we were going to have two months ago,” he added. “I think the kids see this as a blessing, and are rolling with it.”

The Redskins will only play six games in 2020, and five of them will be against Large School foes.

“I think it’s a tough schedule, but it’s definitely a schedule we can manage,” said Gorman. “We’ll take it game by game, and week by week, and we’ll push through the season. I think we have a good chance to have a successful season.

“I don’t know the last time we played North Penn or Wellsboro — having those two teams at the end of the season is definitely different.

“We’re just looking to compete at the Large School level,” added Gorman. “We’ve told the guys this is an opportunity to show what Sayre football is all about.”

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IN PHOTO: Sayre’s Zach Garrity protects QB Lucas Horton. … VSR PHOTO.

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