SMETHPORT — After three consecutive 3-6 campaigns, expectations are growing in Smethport that 2018 will be the start of the program’s turnaround.
The Hubbers were picked, in a coaches preseason poll, to finish first in the newly-instituted District 9 Small School North -- replacing the former Allegheny Mountain League -- ahead of both Otto-Eldred and Coudersport, which have dominated that region in recent seasons
The Hubbers will be returning two of the better running backs in the area from last season and have increased their roster by nearly 10 players from a year ago.
For second-year head coach Adam Jack, who was part of the Smethport teams that won 67 straight AML games under Hall of Fame coach Carl DeFilippi in the early 90s, expectations are nothing new for him and his staff.
“Everyone on this staff played during the streak,” said Jack, who played quarterback on those teams. “Everybody here as a coach is accustomed to expectations like that so for us it’s not as new for us. It’ll be a good thing for the kids to get them off on the right foot and hopefully they’ll feel excited about the expectations.”
As for the players taking the field this season, Jack said he addressed the preseason poll with them in hopes they can embrace the optimism.
“There’s no point in shying away from it” he said. “Quite frankly, preseason rankings mean nothing but we’re going to try to use it to our advantage.”
The quarterback battle will go a long way in determining whether the Hubbers can get over that 3-6 hump.
Jack acknowledges that there will be a battle at QB between incumbent starter Grant Ognen and freshman Noah Lent. The senior assumed the starting role during his sophomore season in 2016, but followed that up with seven touchdowns and eight interceptions last year. That’s led to Jack opening the door for competition this summer.
“I would expect Grant to step up and raise his game,” Jack said. “Nothing has been decided either way but there definitely will be some people pushing him this year.”
Whoever ends up under center will have the opportunity to work with one of the most talented backfields in District 9.
Smethport returns senior tailbacks Blake Kinner and Nate Hollowell to the fold. Combined, the two rushed for over 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns last season.
Jack couldn’t hide his excitement when talking about the skill sets of each.
“Blake is not only able to carry the rock for us but he’s excellent at blocking,” Jack said. “Nate is great at both carrying the ball and also out in space as a slot receiver for us. To have these guys in the second year of the offense coming back as leaders basically elevates the rest of the team.”
Getting both Kinner and Hollowell equal touches won’t be as daunting a task as it might seem because of the way the Hubbers run their offense.
“We run what we call a power spread, so we’re going to pretty much be four-wide with the tight end in there,” Jack said. “Every once in awhile we’re going to bring both of the guys in there and mix it up so the defense doesn’t know exactly who’s getting the ball.
“We want to get the ball in our skill players’ hands and we’ve got everybody that touched the ball last year back this year,” he added.
Running lanes may not comes as easily for Hollowell and Kinner as they did in 2017, however. The Hubbers are replacing all five of their starting linemen from last season, but will see the return of a familiar face. Ian Woodruff, a 6-5, 250-pound senior, missed all of last season with a knee injury but is ready to step back into his starting role.
As with quarterback, however, there will be plenty of competition for the other starting positions on the line.
While the losses up front will hurt on the offensive side of the ball, it’ll also mark a transition period on defense. The Hubbers lost three players (Matthew Stratton, Brayden Southard and Mason Christie) who each had over 30 tackles last year. Those three players were selected All-AML for their play on the offensive line.
“We’re lookingfor some people to step up and earn some starting positions,” Jack said. “We have a lot of positions in camp that have competition so I think we’ll see those younger guys step up to compete and the older guys will have to do the same or it will go the other way for them.”
The Hubbers open the season at Sheffield, then return to Smethport for four of their next five games.
Smethport won’t have to worry about playing against the likes of Kane or Bradford as in years past.
Jack is hopeful that a lighter start to the season with more evenly-matched games can build confidence in his players for crucial contests in late September and October.
“I think it’s mental toughness,” he said. “We are, without a doubt, going to face adversity early in the season. The key for us is getting that first win where maybe in past years we didn’t have the expectation of winning that game. I’ll throw out maybe Week 4 against Curwensville where we haven’t done too well against them. Maybe earlier than that. Trying to get over that hurdle where in the past we’ve struggled might get the ball rolling for us.”
THE RETURNING starters:
Dale Burdick, senior 6-2, 170, tight end/linebacker
Noah Costa, senior 5-11, 160, kicker
Nathan Hollowell, senior, 6-1, 170, running back/ wide receiver/ safety
Blake Kinner, senior, 6-3, 225, running back/linebacker
Grant Ognen, senior, 5-9, 165, quarterback
Bradley LaFleur, senior, 6-0, 230, tackle both ways
Alex Sanderson, senior, 5-10, 155, wide receiver/ corner
Gage Stevens, senior, 5-10, 205, tackle both ways
Ian Woodruff, senior, 6-5, 250, guard/defensive end
Braedon Johnson, sophomore, 5-5, 125, running back/ strong safety
Michael Tanner, sophomore, 6-0, 180, guard/defensive end
ALSO LETTERING were
Issac Smith, senior, 5-7, 155, guard/nose tackle
THE PLAYERS, by position:
Quarterbacks: Ognen, Richard McDowell (jr., 6-0, 165), Noah Lent (fr., 5-8, 130)
Running backs: Hollowell, Kinner, Hunter Lent (jr., 5-9, 150), Johnson, Logan Christie (so., 5-9, 135), Chase Burdick (so., 5-9, 140), Kameron Rounsville (so., 5-8, 135), Lucas Fowler (so., 5-8, 155)
Ends: D. Burdick, Sanderson, Darrin Jewell (sr., 5-11, 152), Kylar Carpenter (sr., 5-9, 155), Bryent Johnson (jr., 5-5, 120), Alex Pelchy (jr., 6-3, 155), Ryli Burritt (so., 5-6, 120), Damian Neubert (so., 5-10, 120), Trevor Zuver (so., 5-7, 125), John Adamoski (fr., 5-11, 130), Nic Cummings (fr., 5-2, 110), Brandon Higley (fr., 5-10, 170), Nathan King (fr., 5-10, 110)
Guards/Tackles: LaFleur, Woodruff, Stevens, Smith, Javin Brown (sr., 5-9, 230), Josh Canfield (sr., 5-11, 220), Isaac Fuller (sr., 6-2, 244), Caleb Roberts (sr., 5-11, 195), Derek McClain (jr., 5-9, 155), Zach Persing (jr., 5-6, 150), Tyler Howes (so., 6-0, 240), Adenn Stevens (so., 5-9, 230), Tanner, Zachary Rush (fr., 5-8, 220), Zechariah Mentz (fr., 5-11, 175), Ryan Sherwood (fr., 5-3, 110), Devin Williams (fr., 5-10, 140)
Centers: Shayne Westfall (jr., 5-10, 210), Travis Cooney (fr., 5-9, 110), Alexander Ognen (fr., 5-9, 150)
Ends: Roberts, Woodruff, McClain, Pelchy, Persing, Westfall, Tanner, Adamoski, Williams
Tackles: Brown, Canfield, Fuller, LaFleur, G. Stevens, Howes, A. Stevens, Rush, Mentz, Sherwood, Williams
Linebackers: D. Burdick, Kinner, Smith, G. Stevens, H. Lent, C. Burdick, Fowler, McDowell, Rounsville, Conney, Higley, Ognen
Defensive Backs: Carpenter, Hollowell, Jewell, Sanderson, Bry. Johnson, Burritt, Christie, Bra. Johnson, Neubert, Zuver, Cummings, King, N. Lent
25 – at Sheffield
31 – Clarion-Limestone
7 – Port Allegany
14 – at Curwensville
21 – Otto-Eldred
28 – Redbank Valley
5 – at Cameron County
12 – Keystone
19 – at Coudersport