Intelligencer/Courier 'Let's Talk Football' (8-25-17)

Back for its eighth season, the popular Intelligencer/Courier Times ‘Let’s Talk Football’ features Drew Markol, Todd Thorpe and Jen Wielgus. This year’s first edition will feature Markol’s overview of the three conferences. Markol is the football beat writer for the Intelligencer area while Thorpe is the Courier’s football beat writer. Wielgus is a video sports reporter for the Intelligencer and Courier. All three are regular contributors on the weekly Game On show. To view this week’s show, click on the following link: http://www.theintell.com/videos/hsgameon/  To stay on top of the high school football news in the area, visit the Intelligencer (http://www.theintell.com/sports/high-school/) and Courier Times (http://www.buckscountycouriertimes.com/sports/high-school/web sites. Check out the picks by our panel of experts:  http://www.suburbanonesports.com/football-forecaster

SuburbanOneSports.com:  Are there any games that jump out at you in week one of the season?

Drew Markol:  “One of the big games would be La Salle at North Penn. This is the eighth time they’ve met in the opener. North Penn finally beat La Salle last year after La Salle had won the first six. It’s like a recording, but both of these teams are loaded again. I think North Penn will be more balanced than last year. They had the quarterback, Reece Udinski, and he covered up a lot of warts in the running game by being able to throw the ball so well. I think this year North Penn will run it and throw it well enough. To me, North Penn is just about an overwhelming favorite to win the district title. You just go down that roster, and the names jump out at you, and you say, ‘Oh, I remember him, I remember him, and I remember him.’ That’s rare for high school football, which so many times is senior dominated.

“You look at Justin Henley who’s a three-year starter. He’s likely going to college as a cornerback, but he’s a very good receiver and obviously is very good in the defensive secondary. I think he’s going to play some quarterback in some packages for them. Having him running around back there is a nightmare for opposing teams. He was a quarterback on the freshman team, so it’s not foreign to him, and boy, if he can just throw it a little bit and with that threat to run, that kid’s an electric player.

“Then you have Owen Thomas, the tight end who is going to Villanova. He’s a stud on defense, and he’s a senior who’s making play after play. Jon Haynes is an up and comer in the secondary and at receiver. You can’t really point to any weakness. The line is better on offense. Okay, you lost the quarterback in Udinski, who was fabulous, but North Penn’s not known for having great quarterbacks. If the quarterback is just good enough, it kind of takes care of itself. Whoever that turns out to be – I’m sure Dick Beck will have that kid ready. If it’s Henley, that gives you a run-pass option that a lot of teams would love to have. Then you look at the special teams with Kelly Macnamara. It’s no longer she’s a great female kicker – that’s out the window. For a high school kid, she’s a great kicker. You don’t need any other thing to qualify that. She doesn’t miss extra points, and she’s got 40-45 yard range on field goals. You don’t get that in high school. To have that weapon, it’s just another thing. This North Penn team is going to be really, really good.

“North Penn is loaded, but so is La Salle. Their quarterback, Isaiah Jones, didn’t play last year – he tore up his knee right before the North Penn game, but he’s back. He’s legit. Plus La Salle has some really good D-1AA type linemen up front. This is just a good opening night game for both teams, and that’s what you like to see. Even if you lose that game, it doesn’t hurt you. Let’s say North Penn beats them. If you’re La Salle, your loss is going to come to a team that’s going to be 10-0. If you’re La Salle and you beat North Penn, who’s La Salle losing to the rest of the way? Maybe St. Joe’s Prep, maybe not. The coaches from both sides realize – you’re going to get in the playoffs regardless, so test your team because I’m not sure where North Penn’s test is going to come during the season.”

SuburbanOneSports.com:  Who are the teams to beat in the SOL National Conference this season?

Drew Markol:  “You look at the National Conference, and you’ve got think after a bit of a down year at Pennsbury, Dan McShane – he knows what he’s doing. It’s his second year as coach. He had a younger team last year, and now he has a lot of those kids back. They always have a lot of beef up front. I think Pennsbury will be better.

“In turn, you have Neshaminy who had a lot of really good players last year, but they’re gone to graduation. Their quarterback, Mason Jones, was a three-and-a-half-year starter, and they lost Zach Tredway and Will Dogba, the running back, so Neshaminy kind of has to reload. Can they do that? Yes, they can. Neshaminy and Pennsbury always battle it out for that title.

“The team I’m keeping an eye on is Truman. They have a new coaching staff over there, and they have a lot of kids from the track team who have come out for the team. They were playing better last year, and that just builds momentum. The same thing with Bensalem - I don’t think Bensalem and Truman are going to threaten Pennsbury and Neshaminy just yet, but the time may be coming. They’ll be better.”

SuburbanOneSports.com:  What are your thoughts about the SOL Conference which includes a powerhouse North Penn squad?

Drew Markol:  “It’s probably a race for second between Pennridge, CB South and maybe CB East. They’ve all had nice runs. Pennridge probably has the conference’s best player in linebacker Nick Tarburton. He’s the first Pennridge football player to ever get a scholarship to Penn State, which tells you something. They’ll use him at fullback a lot too. He’s just a tackling machine that will go sideline to sideline, so having him will help. They lost their quarterback, Jagger Hartshorn, who is down at UAB (University of Alabama-Birmingham), so you have to try and replace him. I was over at a Pennridge practice, and they have a lot of numbers. I would think they’ll be right there.

“CB South has quarterback Jack Johns and running back Matt Norris, who’s a linebacker and a real good player. CB East keeps losing good kids to graduation, but John Donnolly has them rolling a bit, for sure. He likes what he sees from a lot of kids you don’t know about yet, but obviously, we’re going to find out soon.”

SuburbanOneSports.com:  Your thoughts about the SOL American Conference.

Drew Markol:  “In the American, my dark horse will be Hatboro-Horsham, which isn’t that much of a dark horse. Their quarterback, Chris Edwards, is a very good player, and Calvin Broaddus, the receiver – when you have an experienced quarterback-receiver combo, high school teams aren’t used to playing much pass coverage, and that’s something you can exploit, and I’m sure they will. Edwards is very, very good, and he can run it too.

“At Quakertown, George Banas had a young team last year. Noah Wood did everything for them, and he graduated, but you hope those young kids can turn it on. We’ll see.

“Upper Dublin won the district title two years ago, and they shared the conference title last year with PW. I look at high schools – either you’re a team or you’re a program. Upper Dublin – under coach Bret Stover - has become a program. That’s when you fill in the gaps that you lost, and you don’t really miss a beat. Upper Dubin is going to be right near the top and Plymouth Whitemarsh with Dan Chang. Dan Chang has been there a long time, and they’ve got a nice history, which never hurts.

If you look at it, the best race could be in the American Conference. The Continental, I think, is North Penn’s, and in the National it’s Neshaminy-Pennsbury or Pennsbury-Neshaminy. This year, at least, you flip the coin, but in the American, you have a couple of teams who I’m sure are all thinking, ‘Hey, we could win this,’ and that’s pretty cool.”