It’s almost hard to believe that it has been four football seasons since Steve Jervis took the reins of the Lackawanna Trail football program.
It is almost as hard to believe the strides the Lions have made under his guidance.
This year’s senior class will hold a special spot in Jervis’ heart, no matter what the season’s win-loss record will show. These 12 players will mark a milestone for Jervis, as they are kids who were freshmen when he was beginning his initial season being in charge of the Lions’ program.
“It’s a good senior class that has played together for awhile,” Jervis said. “It’s the first group we had as a true freshman team three years ago. They had a very competitive freshman team and continued to develop. A lot of them played often, got a lot of varsity experience the last two years.”
In fact, six of them are returning starters on both sides of the ball, while three others are single-position starters back. That is a lot of experience at such a small school like Lackawanna Trail, which should be a contender for both the Lackawanna Football Conference Division III and District 2 Class A championships.
But it will take more than just having the seniors play up to expectations. Younger kids will have to step up and play significant roles for the Lions, whose only non-senior returning starter is sophomore Tyler Baltrusaitis.
“In addition, we have some quality kids coming up,” Jervis said. “We don’t have a lot of kids; the word I would use would be ‘quality,’ not necessarily ‘quantity,’ but it’s a good group of kids and we’re very excited about the upcoming season.”
By watching the seniors try to better themselves over the long off-season, the underclassmen will see how to do things the way Jervis wants them to be done.
“These kids, they’re a hard-working bunch, they’re a bright bunch and they understand our system on offense, on defense and our way on special teams,” Jervis said. “Over the last three years, the last two specifically, they’ve been in some big games, have gotten playoff experience and I’m just hoping that this year, we’re ready to take the next step.”
Much of the high hopes may hinge upon the success the team’s linemen can produce on both sides of the ball. Being able to run the ball and defend against the run often are hallmarks of successful high school teams in the area. Just last year, Old Forge rode that recipe to a berth in the state Class A final and Jervis surely took note of the Blue Devils’ method of winning.
“I think we’ll be much more physical on both the offensive and defensive lines,” Jervis said. “I think we’ll be very balanced on offense.”
Heading the charge on the offensive line are returning senior starters in tackle Evan Sandercock and guards Matt Cole and Hunter Crook.
But Jervis is counting even more heavily on his skill-position players as the Lions return their quarterback in Vic Mallory, running backs Jared Phillips, Cooper Rosiak and Ross Fauquier and wide receiver Liam Dougherty. All five are seniors.
“It’s always nice when you return the full stable of backs, our quarterback is a 1,400-yard passer from a year ago; he’s worked hard in the weight room, and I think he can be much more of a run threat, if we need to do that,” Jervis said. “Kids like Jared Phillips at fullback, a big, strong, 215-pound fullback who can run, Cooper Rosiak and Ross Fauquier, along with a couple of underclassmen in Thomas Huffsmith and Anthony Berrios, they’re going to give us some depth at halfback.”
Huffsmith and Berrios are sophomores, significant parts of the future for Jervis, but also big parts of the present.
Defensively, the secondary is in the capable hands of Rosiak at free safety and cornerbacks Baltrusaitis and Dougherty.
Cole and Fauquier are returning starters at linebacker, with nose guard Jordan Hannon, Sandercock at tackle and Phillips at end supplying a whole bunch of experience, Jervis has a team capable of making a lot of noise this season.
“Our size and strength along the offensive and defensive lines, as well as our balance on offense should be the keys,” Jervis said.
The preseason roster listed 13 two-way linemen, giving Jervis a shot at finding enough depth to give his starting linemen an occasional breather without hurting the team significantly. Senior Jacob Hayduk and juniors Nick Rolka and Trent Phillips have worked their way into playing time, with the likes of Huffsmith, Crook and Hannon adding duties on the side of the ball they aren’t listed as returning starters.
It all adds up to a team on the rise, with high expectations and high aspirations.