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Rams Seek Redemption
Wyalusing Valley's Julio Torres hauls in a touchdown pass during the Rams' scrimmage at Susquehanna Community on Aug. 28. Wyalusing's Zach Reinhart (4) looks on. The Rams open the 2004 season Friday at home against Canton.
If hard work, positive attitude and enthusiasm are any indication, the Wyalusing Valley High School football team should have a successful season.
Gary Otis, entering his first year as head coach, is extremely pleased with the effort shown by his team during preseason practice.
"We had a great two-week camp," Otis said. "I couldn't be happier."
Otis took over a team that struggled through a 2-8 season in 2003, hard on the heels of a 4-6 campaign in 2002.
Erasing the emotional memories of the first back-to-back losing seasons for Wyalusing since the 1986 and 1987 campaigns was Otis's first objective entering camp.
"We've set our goals high," he explained. "We want to try to get on the right track.
"The players have great attitudes. They want to do things to improve. They've picked it up a notch and come together as a team.
"They want to succeed and reach their goals."
Fifteen lettermen return to lead the comeback effort, including seniors Ben Fish, Greg Schantz, Dan Doss, Anthony McKennas, Bryan Huyck, Thad Slocum, Kody Kellogg, Mark Decker, Julio Torres and Mike Wilson and juniors Branden Johnson, Tim Millard, David Phillippe, Zach Reinhart and Eric Brigham.
Otis feels the strength of the team entering Friday's home tilt against Canton will be in the skill positions.
Fish will start at quarterback, hoping to overcome the injuries that plagued the 2003 season. Sophomore Derek Otis will be his backup.
Schantz, a fullback, is expected to carry much of the offensive burden on his large shoulders. He rushed for 618 yards last season.
Brigham, who rushed for 228 yards and a gaudy 6.7 yards-per-attempt average in limited duty, will get the nod at tailback.
The receiving corps is deep. McKennas and Torres will probably split duty at slotback. Either Jared Johnson, a junior, or Decker will start at tight end. Johnson can also play wideout, where Reinhart should also see a great deal of playing time.
"Our quarterbacks can throw and run," Otis said. "We have some good backs."
Otis's real concern entering the season is a very inexperienced offensive line.
Millard is expected to start at center with sophomore Joe Brink and Slocum flanking him at the guard positions. Huyck and senior Matt Heath should start at tackles.
"The line's going to come along," Otis said. "They're inexperienced and they need time to gel."
He is giving the older boys the first chance to come together, but a very strong contingent of sophomore linemen is waiting in the wings should they falter.
"We're not hurting for linemen. They're competing and pushing each other."
On the defensive side of the ball, the Rams expect to line up most of the time in a 4-4 set for long-time defensive coordinator Dave Behrend.
Brink and Millard are expected to start at defensive tackle. Phillippe, Wilson and Doss should all see some action at defensive end.
The linebacking corps is led by Schantz and two-time varsity letterman Branden Johnson, who was the team's leading tackler in 2003. Torres and Decker are the other starters.
Fish will start at free safety. Jared Johnson is expected to hold down one cornerback spot. Manning the other corner will either be junior Josh Taylor or sophomore Nick Kellogg.
The defense was very young last season, and a year's experience should help the unit improve.
The kicking game should be strong.
Jason Naugle, a strong-legged junior, will handle the placekicking chores. Either Naugle or Derek Otis will kickoff.
Fish is penciled in as the punter.
McKennas will be the long snapper on placekicks, while junior Brent Heeman will perform that task on punts. Reinhart will hold on placekicks.
While Athens and Towanda are the preseason favorites to win the Northern Tier League, Otis sees a window of opportunity if his team comes together.
"The league should be well-balanced. It should be pretty competitive.
"Every week, every team has a chance to beat each other."
Wyalusing's schedule will be a testing one.
After Friday's game with Canton, the Rams hit a tough six-game stretch with road games at Wellsboro, North Penn, Athens, Sayre and Montoursville. The only home game in that span isn't easy either—South Williamsport.
Wyalusing closes the season with three home games—Troy, Cowanesque Valley and Towanda.
"We want to be competitive and be in every game," Otis said. "If we work and improve, good things will happen for us."
Rams Quick Facts
Head Coach: Gary Otis enters his first year as head coach.
Assistants: Dave Behrend, Jim Huffman, Frank Kinney, Brent Trowbridge, Mike Earle, Joe Burridge, Justin Jones, Dan Cook, Ken Mapes and Larry Otis.
Offense: Slot I.
Schedule: (Home games in capitals:
Sept. 3: CANTON
Sept. 10: Wellsboro
Sept. 17: North Penn
Sept. 24: SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT
Oct. 1: Athens
Oct. 8: Sayre
Oct. 15: Montoursville
Oct. 22: TROY
Oct. 29: COWANESQUE VALLEY
Nov. 5: TOWANDA