A spark to the upcoming season may have come at the end of last year's 10-game slate.
A 20-18 victory by the Elkers over Clarion-Limestone ended the 2010 football season with a win and varsity head coach Mark Heindl said he saw that momentum from the off-season to preparation for this season. He noted his appreciation for the 2010 seniors and the work they put into the program and teaching this year's team members.
"The kids last year, they gave everything that they had," Heindl said. "They showed that by winning that last game against Clarion-Limestone. A lot of those kids that returned had a very good off-season that transported into the pre-season and the 2-a-day practices. We like what we see so far.
"It's a very exciting thing going on right now for our program," Heindl said. "This has been the most kids we've had out since I've been here. We're right around 32. They are kids that are willing to work hard and get better each and every day. It's fun to come to practice."
Increased depth can be attributed to seniors coming out for football for their final year of high school. Jordan Lundin is one of those faces and is expected to vie for the starting quarterback spot along with Zac McKnight.
"One of the nice things about having the depth that we have is there's competition there that we haven't had in years past," Heindl said. "That's the beauty of it. Right now at quarterback, it's between Jordan Lundin, who came out for his senior year, who played for us quite a bit as a sophomore. Zac McKnight. It's a heated battle that we expect will go all the way up until the week of Port Allegany when we make our final decision. Both kids came into camp in excellent shape. They're both working with each other and trying to one-up on each other to get that slot."
Lundin was the quarterback for much of the 2009 season as a sophomore while McKnight is familiar with the varsity team from action last season.
"Both of them have experience," Heindl said. "Zac went from a running back to a quarterback. He played a little on the varsity but mainly on the JV level at the quarterback position and he did a wonderful job. Jordan, with the quarterback position that he had as a sophomore, just that experience makes it a lot easier when you go into camp because you take a couple extra steps because they already know the prior knowledge from before."
Sam Delhunty and Brett Himes are expected to compete at fullback with defensive stalwart Steve Mitchell also in the mix.
"Fullback, it's another big battle. We have Sammy Delhunty, who is a sophomore. We have Brett Himes, who is a junior fighting it out for the fullback position. Both kids came into camp in excellent condition. Once again, both of them are feeding off each other," Heindl said. "The sleeper at fullback right now is Stevie Mitchell. Stevie's just a hard-nosed kid. Stevie's a defensive-minded guy but again if we get him on the offensive side of the ball, he's been taking a lot of reps there. Don't be surprised to see him in and out there as the year progresses as well."
Aaron Sorge, Tony Leithner, Sam Roselli and Dayton Mann will make up the wide receiver position.
"All four of them together are having a great camp," Heindl said. "You're starting to see the competition working itself out on the field."
The running back position could be a strong point for the Elkers this season. Eric Matheson, JoJo Jaques, Mike Cappiello, John Wildnauer and Logan Wickett are those who are at running back entering the season.
"The halfbacks, that's going to be our exciting part there," Heindl said. "There's a lot of competition. We have JoJo Jaques who came back out. Senior Eric Matheson, who came out for his senior year, he brings that experience that he had playing from prior years."
Wickett was summoned into starting running back duty late in the season due to injury and Heindl was happy with his performance being put in at a young age.
"One of the kids that we're really proud of is junior Logan Wickett," Heindl said. "Last year, he stepped in in Week 2 and started for us pretty much throughout the year. Logan got beat up quite a bit last year. I give the kid a lot of credit. He worked his tail off. His speed and his strength are just phenomenal. We're excited to see what Logan can do this year."
Heindl said the influx of speed brought to the offensive backfield can create matchup problems for opposing defenses.
"Just the team speed alone that Matheson, Jaques, Logan Wickett, those style of kids that they can bring to the table at any given time," Heindl said. "Now you just can't focus on just one kid, now you have to focus on the three that are in the backfield. That will make it exciting for us this year."
The offensive line consists of returning starters Cortland Smith, Dustin Blauser and Chris Woods along with Chad Quail, a converted fullback who will be on the line this season. The tackle position will likely come down to Sam Torrez and newcomer Alex Oknefski.
"Right now, we got a heated battle for the tackle position between Sam Torrez who worked his tail off in the off-season and Alex Oknefski who came out for his senior year there once again," Heindl said. "It just adds more depth to the offensive line. At any given night, those guys can play the different positions. That's only going to help us in the long run."
On the defensive line, Heindl is looking at Jared Casolo, Woods and Blauser with Smith and newcomer Seth Stahl in addition to Anthony Palumbo, Zack Ross and Karl Frederoski.
"He's (Stahl) a scrapper. He's a kid that you can't tell him that he can't do something because he'll do everything in his power to prove you wrong," Heindl said. "Through preseason and 2-a-days so far, he's really busted his tail. He's come a long way in a short amount of time. He's got that leadership ability with the defensive line and that's what they need."
Jake Himes is slated to be the middle linebacker this season and Heindl credits his work with the wrestling team for helping him with football. Himes qualified for the Northwest Regional Championships as did Kyle Caggiano who will also be out for the team this season.
"Jake Himes, a 2-year letterwinner at middle linebacker, Jake had a tremendous off-season working with the wrestling program there through Clint Stout and coach (Gary) Gerber," Heindl said. "With him (Caggiano), Chad Quail and Jake Himes in the middle, we're hoping that we can create some havoc with our down linemen there for them to make tackles."
Mitchell is expected to be a force at outside linebacker for the Elkers.
"He's just a phenomenal kid," Heindl said. "He's another kid that you can't tell him he can't do something. He does everything in his power to prove you wrong. Brett Himes started the second half of last season and did a phenomenal job, had that big play in the goal-line stand (against Clarion-Limestone) that really changed the tempo of that game and swung it in our favor. The sleeper in there is John Wildnauer. If he keeps progressing, he could see some time in there."
D.J. Pontious also will be a part of the Ridgway linebacking corps.
McKnight is a returning starter in the secondary from last year. Heindl mentioned Cappiello, Matheson, Lundin, Jaques, Leithner and Sorge as a group that can see time in the defensive backfield.
"It's a good group of kids that any given night, any combination of those kids can wreak havoc on anybody," Heindl said. "The key for them is getting to know the defense, getting to know the expectations and responsiblities. Once they grasp that, we feel strongly that their athletic ability will do the rest."