Football: King’s Banking On New Playmakers In 2018
WILKES-BARRE — Even if it plays the same way it has in recent years, King’s football will definitely look much different this season.
There’s no way to avoid that after so many key contributors were lost to graduation.
On offense, quarterback Zach Whitehead is gone after accounting for 98 percent of the Monarchs’ pass attempts last year — and a quarter of their rushing yards.
His favorite targets, Tyler Marroni, Trey Campbell, Corey Flynn and Marquis Miller, made up 89 percent of the team’s receiving touchdowns, 88 percent of its receiving yards and 86 percent of its receptions. They all played their last games in 2017’s Mayor’s Cup victory over Wilkes, which capped a 5-5 season.
The story isn’t much different on defense, where 10 of the top 12 King’s leaders in tackles are no longer on the roster, nor are six of the seven Monarchs who tallied more than one sack.
“We may start seven sophomores on defense,” coach Jeff Knarr said last week. “Young is what we are, that’s for sure.”
All those vacant positions mean plenty of opportunities for new faces to step up and establish themselves as the Monarchs’ next group of stars. Here’s a brief look at where King’s stands across the field as Middle Atlantic Conference football kicks off this weekend.
While sophomore Gabe Boccella only threw seven passes last season, at least he was an efficient 5 for 7 for 52 yards in that short time. Knarr noted the Aston native was “thrusted” into the backup role upon arrival last season, too, which helped him get acclimated to the uptempo offense he still looks to use.
Fellow sophomore Tommy Klock — a Division II transfer from Millersville — is also vying for the starting job in what Knarr called a “pretty tight” battle. If one doesn’t separate himself from the other, the coach left open the possibility for a two-QB approach to start the season.
“In practice, they’re not getting hit so it’s a little bit different scenario when it starts for real. You see who can step up and lead” if they take turns during the season, Knarr said.
For all the team’s question marks, the running game is as sure a thing as King’s starts the season with.
First team all-MAC pick Jordan Downes led the team with 678 yards (4.9 YPC), and he scored five touchdowns. He’s back for his senior year, and junior Titus Nelson returns after rushing for 358 yards (4.3 YPC) and two scores.
Knarr noted that, five linemen and a quarterback aside, a team has to figure out five players to give the ball to.
“Jordan and Titus in our minds are two of the five,” he said. “They need to be on the field a lot.”
If Downes and Nelson aren’t taking handoffs, they could be getting thrown at. Downes is the team’s top returnee in receptions (19) and yards (183); Nelson (5 rec, 91 yds) follows and joins him as the only two current players who caught a TD pass last year.
Sophomore Tim Costantino (2 rec, 20 yds) is a returning wideout Knarr said could’ve seen bigger numbers if more balls went his way. Senior H-back and Berwick grad C.J. Curry is back without Campbell at the same position, and Knarr said sophomore and fellow H-back Brandon Cohen “might have the best hands on the team.”
There is experience up front, which should keep the running game effective. Senior center Ben Bakanas started every game last year, and sophomore Joe Parker started eight in his debut season.
Senior Brennan Walsh and junior Brian Olsen have started sparingly, too. Knarr hopes that depth can lead to a bit of a rotation as the season goes on.
The line was hit hard by graduation, losing four core seniors.
This year’s bunch will be led by sophomores Devrin Baynard (16 tackles) and Izuchukwu Mozie (9 tackles), who took the field in nine games in 2017. The rest are mostly inexperienced, but Knarr hopes to build depth and form a rotation with others like Scranton native and freshman Justin LeCadre.
Tackles leader Bruce Damon and Pittston Area product Hassan Maxwell are no longer anchoring down this unit. But another District 2 graduate, Mando Sallavanti, could establish himself as a key linebacker for seasons to come.
The Old Forge grad started right away as a freshman and got in on 51 tackles (third on the team), 4.5 for loss. He did that while playing banged up, Knarr said, and “now he’s healthy. He’s having a tremendous camp.”
Sophomore Cory Wilson was taken out by injury early last year but could be effective this time around, too.
Cornerback Mikal Butler tallied 28 tackles and an interception last year, and Jaret Horn, a sophomore from Old Forge, made 16 tackles and had two pass breakups last year. They’re the two defensive backs with the most experience.
Besides them, Knarr mentioned sophomore Charles McCall, sophomore safety Tommy Gilmore and freshman Glenn Mandere as others making strides this preseason.
“(Mandere is) doing an awesome job at corner,” Knarr said. “He’ll probably be the other starting corner.
Costantino will handle punts again after a 33.5-yard average in 2017. Kicking duties will come down to two freshmen, either Meyers graduate Kenny Macko or Jack Barreras.
“Right now, they’re about the same,” Knarr said last week.
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Coach: Jeff Knarr (Ninth season, 27-53)
2017: 5-5, 4-5 MAC (T-6th place)
Sept. 1 at Moravian
Sept. 8 Bye week
Sept. 15 Hartwick
Sept. 22 Stevenson (homecoming)
Sept. 29 at Lycoming
Oct. 6 Widener
Oct. 13 at Alvernia, noon
Oct. 20 at Albright
Oct. 27 Misericordia
Nov. 3 Delaware Valley
Nov. 10 at Wilkes (Mayor’s Cup), noon
All games 1 p.m. unless noted
Gabe Boccella: 5 for 7, 52 yds
Jordan Downes: 138 att, 678 yds, 5 TD
Titus Nelson: 83 att, 358 yds, 2 TD
Gabe Boccella: 5 att, 18 yds
Jordan Downes: 19 rec, 183 yds, TD
Titus Nelson: 5 rec, 91 yds, TD
C.J. Curry: 3 rec, 29 yds
Mando Sallavanti: 51
Mikal Butler: 28
Devrin Baynard & Jaret Horn: 16
Jaret Horn: 2
Four players: 1
Mikal Butler: 4
Jaret Horn: 2
Izuchukwu Mozie: 1
District 2 connections
Shawn Balinas, junior defensive back, Carbondale Area
Trevor Brown, sophomore offensive lineman, Old Forge
Josh Burkavage, senior linebacker, Honesdale
C.J. Curry, senior H-back, Berwick
Matthew Evans, freshman offensive lineman, Old Forge
Cody Glogowski, sophomore wide receiver, Riverside
Jaret Horn, sophomore defensive back, Old Forge
James Hunter, freshman defensive lineman, Dallas
Jason Kopf, freshman H-back, Holy Cross
Kenny Macko, freshman placekicker, Meyers
Brendan Mozeleski, freshman running back, Old Forge
Marcus Pacheco, freshman defensive back, Scranton
Midjerson Pierre, freshman wide receiver, Pittston Area
Nicholas Reilly, freshman quarterback, Delaware Valley
Mando Sallavanti, sophomore linebacker, Old Forge
Lexus Souriyavong, freshman defensive lineman, Old Forge
Justin Wenner, senior halfback, Berwick