Back for its 11th season, the popular Intelligencer/Bucks County Courier Times ‘Let’s Talk Football’ features football beat writers Drew Markol and Todd Thorpe. To stay on top of the high school football news in the area, visit the Intelligencer (https://www.theintell.com/sports/high-school) and Courier Times (https://www.buckscountycouriertimes.com/sports/high-school/) web sites, which will feature a live blog on football Fridays.
SuburbanOneSports.com: Thoughts about the 2020 football season that is unlike any other.
Drew Markol: “We finally have football in the Suburban One League beginning Friday in a completely different world than a year ago or any other year that we knew. I’ve been to a couple games where they have crowd limits of 250 and that includes the teams, the trainers, the refs, the coaches, and it leads to a very small crowd and hardly any noise. If your school allows fans and you’re going, be prepared to wear your mask, and if you have tickets, bring those. You may be asked for ID. I’ve been to games, and I’ve been asked to show ID more than once just to get in the gate.
“Fortunately, kids adapt a lot of times better than parents and fans, and what you’ll find – for the kids, it may seem odd to them for a quarter or a half, but once the game kicks in and they get going, they have tunnel vision and they just play. We’ve had all these protests about ‘let the kids play.’ Well, now we’re letting the kids play, and we weren’t protesting – ‘let the kids play and let the parents watch.’ We were just hoping they would let the kids play.
“Some parents are obviously upset about not getting the second part of that and letting them go to games, but the important thing is – in a pandemic world that I never thought anybody would play high school football, the fact that these kids can just play a game – I’m not a big fan of moral victories, but I think with this type of situation we’re in, we’ll all take a moral victory, and that would be – just to have these kids play would be great. Just remember if you’re not allowed to go, there’s live streaming, and there’s Twitter. If you are allowed to go, socially distance, wear your mask, cheer, and just be happy the kids are playing.”
Todd Thorpe: “I think the key right now is just playing the games that are on your schedule. I certainly hope for everybody that they add a few more games so they can get an eight-game season out of this. I’m sure they’re just happy to be playing. No fans or limited fans are an adjustment. I know it’s disappointing for the families and everything, but I think playing is the most important thing right now. I think that’s where you really have to start and see what this five-game abbreviated season holds. Sure a couple of teams are going to play some playoff games, but hopefully, they put together a full eight-game season. This season isn’t about championships or whatever. I think this season is about playing and competing again after six-seven months of doing nothing.”
SuburbanOneSports.com: The SOL has newly-aligned conferences this year. Your comments about that as well as your thoughts about the new National Conference.
Drew Markol: “Let’s first mention that Harry S Truman and Cheltenham, which was a 5A state finalist last year, opted out of playing in the fall, so you won’t have them, but there are a lot of interesting matchups. This year a conference title, which I like, takes on more significance because we don’t know how long these teams will be playing. Hopefully, they’ll be able to get all their conference games in. It’s some interesting stuff.
“All three of the Central Bucks schools are now in the National Conference along with Pennsbury, Neshaminy, Pennridge and Abington. In week one, you have CB South playing Abington. Abington is coming off a really good season last year, South had a good season too. They’re not unfamiliar. They’ve played in the non-league portion of their schedules in previous years, so there’s a familiarity with these teams. Abington lost a lot of its skill players, but they’re pretty good up front. Oreck Frazier is one of the best players in the entire Suburban One League. He made a name for himself in the secondary, but I believe they’re going to move him to running back too and get him the ball, which should be no surprise. That will give Abington a nice threat there. CB South lost receiver Sean Smith to graduation, but I think they’ll be pretty stout on the lines. That’s an interesting game.
“You stay in the National Conference, and North Penn is at Neshaminy, an annual battle of two district powers. North Penn has had Neshaminy’s number over the past couple years, but they always play exciting games. Last year was a wild game where North Penn won 55-34. It went back and forth for a while. You look at Neshaminy – their four-year quarterback Brody McAndrew is now at New Hampshire, but running back Craig James is going into his third year as a starter. He’s not the biggest kid in the world, but he can pile up the yardage and find the holes. He’s the type of player you could see getting 25-30 carries a game. As he goes, maybe Neshaminy goes.
“You look at North Penn, which has 144 kids, and they’re loaded. North Penn is always good, but I think this is a really, really good North Penn team. Their quarterback, Ryan Zeltt, started as a freshman last year, which is unheard of, and he kept getting better as the season went along. Now you have him as a sophomore, and that kid’s just going to keep improving. Junior running back Khalani Eaton is a stud. He was a workhorse for the Knights last year. I look at him as a big-time recruit next year, and they’re going to go to him. He’s about 210 pounds, he’s powerful, he’s fast, and once he gets into the secondary, he’s awfully hard to catch. That North Penn team across the board is really good, and come playoff time, whatever the playoffs look like if there are playoffs, I expect them to be part of it. That’s another good game in the National Conference.
“Staying in the National Conference, you have CB East at Pennsbury. Pennsbury was back and forth on the fence about whether to even play, and they finally ironed things out recently that they were going to play. They have a pretty tough matchup in CB East right off the bat. CB East with Anthony Giordano, the quarterback, is very good. He started his sophomore year at tight end, and they moved him to quarterback last year. He’ll be one of the top quarterbacks in the conference – a lot of savvy, good arm. A second-year starter, he’s pretty tough, and he’s not afraid to tuck the ball and run too, so he gives East a nice option. Senior receiver Will Silverman is a nice target and has been for a couple of years. I’m sure Pennsbury has been practicing, but if you’re not completely sure you’ll be able to play, it’s probably a different level of intensity. That will be a fun one to watch. I think you’ll see a lot of Pennsbury running the ball whereas East will probably throw it with Giordano 20-25 times.
“Then you look at Pennridge at CB West. Pennridge is coming off a three-win season last year, and they had to be disappointed in that, and then you have West, which won the Continental and won a district playoff game. West had a resurgence last season, and they did it with a lot of seniors, including Jack Fallon who is now at Kuttztown. He was a do-everything-for-them player - running back, defensive back, punt returner, kick returner, so replacing him will not be easy, so it will be more of a committee approach for West. They are rebuilding because they lost a ton to graduation, but their coach, Rob Rowan, is pretty good at what he does, so we’ll see where that takes the Bucks. Pennridge is buoyed by the return of Shane Hartzell, who was an all-state linebacker as a sophomore and missed most of last year with a leg injury. He’s back, and he’s just a tackling machine at linebacker, and he’ll also be in the backfield at fullback. He’ll carry the ball. Having Hartzell back if he’s healthy, they – like Abington with Frazier – have a player in Hartzell who’s one of the best, if not the best player in the conference. He’s a Villanova commit, and it will be interesting to see him come back. The National Conference has a couple of good ones this week to get everything started.”
Todd Thorpe: “Just looking at the conferences, you go back to the old Power 10 days to some extent with the National Conference – I guess Power 8 is what it would be now. When you have a Neshaminy, a Pennsbury, a North Penn, an Abington in the same conference and then you throw in Pennridge, CB East, CB South and CB West, every one of those teams in the last decade has had success, has had district playoff runs, has had league championships. They’ve all been successful programs over the last decade. Putting them together creates a power conference, and I think this is the way it should have been all along. Football is a game where school size really matters as well as the quality of the coaching of the programs. These are the best programs, and it should be a lot of fun to watch, especially in a season where the playoffs aren’t the biggest focus. Let’s just focus on the league, playing these games. It will be interesting to see. Obviously, when you’re talking Neshaminy, North Penn, Pennsbury, not a lot of teams want to be in the same league with them, but the fact that they’re all in the same league this year makes that a lot fairer.
“You look at a North Penn at Neshaminy right off the bat. No longer is this a non-league game at the beginning of the season. Now it’s a league game between two of the teams that probably figure to be in the mix not only in this conference but for a playoff spot. North Penn clearly has to be the favorite in this conference.
“I love CB East against Pennsbury. CB East is a very well organized program. They’ve been doing workouts and getting ready for the season as opposed to a Pennsbury that was very late getting into the fall season. Potentially, Pennsbury is one of the better teams. We’ll see how far along they are when they play CB East, which has a returning quarterback (Anthony Giordano). They’re returning really good wide receivers, their line looks like it will be pretty good. We thought Pennsbury would be one of the favorites in that league, but they are matched up tough right at the start.
“Then you go into Pennridge against CB West. A year ago, West was the toast of the town. They were really – I don’t want to say surprise team, but they were really the team that stepped up last year and was the best team at the end of the year before running into Coatesville. Obviously, you lose a Jack Fallon and a Jack Neri, so there are question marks at the talent positions, but does Rob Rowan have that program where they go year to year and are good every year and are really that competitive? We’ll find our right off the bat because Pennridge has been building with Cody Muller the past couple of years. Is this the year they can break out? I know they’ve got a lot of people back as well.
“The other game is Abington/CB South. Abington won the National Conference last year. How good are they? They lost Tamir Berthau, their quarterback. They lost a lot of other players, but they’ve got Oreck Frazier, who I think will have an increased role this year. He’s a Division 1AA recruit. CB South again lost a ton too, so we will find out. That’s something in this season we don’t know. We don’t know what’s going to happen because it’s October and there are a lot of unknowns. Without having a whole summer to digest who’s back and who’s not, we’re going to learn on the fly. You also have to take into consideration – I guess they scrimmaged a little last week, but most of these teams are going to be relatively untouched going into the year. Week one could be interesting. There could be a lot of points put on the board. It could take time to get organized as well. It’s a really interesting week in that conference.”
SuburbanOneSports.com: Your thoughts about the newly-aligned Continental Conference.
Drew Markol: “In the Continental, you have some new faces. You have Bensalem and both Council Rocks coming down from the National, Hatboro-Horsham, Quakertown, Souderton and Upper Dublin. Harry S Truman would be part of the Continental if they were playing football, so that’s a seven-team conference instead of eight.
“On the surface, Upper Dublin with its run of success - we can no longer call it a recent run because they’ve been good for a while now. They’re probably the team to beat in this conference. You look at a team like Souderton that might be larger numbers than most of those schools, but Souderton lost a lot to graduation. They have to fill in a lot of spots – they lost a three-year starter at quarterback in Andrew Vince, so there are some big holes they have to fill. Souderton gets Quakertown in a familiar game for the neighboring rivals. Quakertown struggled last year too, but Tyler Merwarth is a senior now, and he’s a four-year starter back at safety and wide receiver. He will be returning punts and kicks, and he’s an absolute threat every time he touches the ball. Having that kind of player will help the Panthers, but that’s an interesting game.
“You wonder if Hatboro-Horsham with the new coach in Ken Remaily – they go to Council Rock South, and there’s a game that’s interesting to see what you’re getting right off the bat. You have Bensalem at Council Rock North playing, and they’re familiar with each other from their National Conference days, but this move down to the Continental for both of them – it gives them a fighting chance of playing for a conference title. Bensalem and Council Rock North and South when they were up in the National against the Neshaminys and Pennsburys, it was very hard for them to even think of contending, but now they have to have a different mindset – hey, we can do this.
“I think the whole realignment is fair, and it should make for better games because let’s face it – there were several games every year where you knew the winner of that game on Thursday before they even played it on Friday. A lot of times you knew the winner in July before they played in October. It should be different this year. The Bensalem/Council Rock North game is a barometer for both teams. When you’re only playing five or six games, every one of them takes on greater importance. It’s kind of like the Major League Baseball season with a 60-game schedule. If you start off 2-0, you put yourself in a great spot, but if you start off 0-2, you’re really behind. This condensed schedule puts more importance on each game.”
Todd Thorpe: “Now you look at the Continental Conference, and you’re looking at what potentially could be a really competitive conference. Schools like a Souderton or Quakertown are now competing with the Upper Dublins, the Bensalems and the Council Rocks. It’s really a different type of looking league. I know if you’re one of the Council Rocks or Bensalem, you look at this and say, ‘Finally, we’re out of the league with the behemoths. Now we have a chance.’ Back when they did this before, the one thing I remember about that middle conference was how competitive it was top to bottom. This is a good league, a competitive league against teams that are very well balanced, maybe a balance you didn’t see when they were doing it by school size.
“I like that Quakertown and Souderton are playing. I think that’s important. That’s a nice rivalry. You look at a Quakertown and where do they stand? I’m sure Souderton goes into this conference thinking they’re the team to beat because they’ve been banging heads with the big boys the last couple of years. For Quakertown, it’s a chance to play their rival and to really put a stamp on it and say – ‘We’re really going to be here for a while.’ I’m curious how that shakes out. I know obviously Souderton took some big losses to graduation last year. I think that’s a very interesting matchup. I think the team that wins that is going to be looked to as the team that might be a favorite in an abbreviated season.
“Council Rock North is playing Bensalem. I was talking to John Greiner, the North coach, last week. I was also talking to Ed Cubbage, the Bensalem coach, and both go in with a renewed sense of optimism. John Greiner is a pretty good coach. He’s been around. He coached at Bristol beforehand, and he knows what it takes to win. Talking to him, you get the sense that they had a real productive offseason and that they’re a better team – especially up front, and it’s going to be interesting to see how much progress they’ve made. Bensalem is another team that last year played a lot of sophomores that this year are going to develop into juniors. Those are schools going in not thinking they’re going to be losing games. Starting the season with a win is key for either one of those teams as well.
“Rock South is playing Hatboro-Horsham – you have Hatboro-Horsham with a new coach (Ken Remaily) and Council Rock South is coming off a down year, so we’ll see. I probably would say I like South in that game, but until we see them play, it’s tough to say. Hatboro-Horsham is not a program that lacks for skill players. They have a new coach with a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of Hatboro pride too. He’s somebody that has been around that school for a long time, so it will be really interesting to see how improved they are. Just looking at it from that perspective, I would say South has to be a little bit of a favorite.”
SuburbanOneSports.com: Your comments about the newly aligned American Conference.
Drew Markol: “If we take a look at the American Conference, there are six teams playing in the fall. Cheltenham is not playing, and Lower Moreland will join next year. New Hope-Solebury has come in this year to the Suburban One League. They had some nice success under coach Jim Ditulio in the BAL. We’ll have to see how they can compete. When you take Cheltenham out of this mix, you’re looking at New Hope-Solebury, PW, Springfield, Upper Moreland, William Tennent and Wissahickon. Again, it’s hard to pick a favorite out of that. They look on paper like they’re evenly matched. You take a team like William Tennent, which has struggled mightily. Now you put them in the American Conference, and they open up with Springfield – okay, that’s a winnable game either way. With the way that conference is set up without Cheltenham, which would have been a prohibitive favorite, the American Conference is wide open and that’s not a bad thing if you’re a kid trying to win a conference title.”
Todd Thorpe: “As far as the American Conference goes, it’s unfortunate Cheltenham isn’t playing because they clearly would be head and shoulders above everybody else. Now you have William Tennent down in that league. Tennent through the years has either been in the National or Continental, and now they’re competing with schools that are their size. They may be the biggest school, I’m not sure of the exact numbers, but it’s certainly a league where – on paper – they should be more competitive. Lower Moreland will come in the league next year, but New Hope-Solebury is in the league this year, and what a huge leap for them coming up from the BAL. They’re a good program , and now all of a sudden they’re playing in a conference with Plymouth Whitemarsh, Upper Moreland, Tennent and Wissahickon. It’s an all-new ballgame for them. Off the top of the head, I’m not even sure if there’s a favorite in that conference. Plymouth Whitemarsh is getting a late start because they only approved football last week. I’m sure they like where they stand as well as programs like a William Tennent or an Upper Moreland. That’s an interesting conference as well.
“New Hope-Solebury is at Upper Moreland this week, and those two teams have played each other – it’s not like this is the first time they’ve played. They usually play non-league games, and Upper Moreland is usually a tad better. New Hope has some pretty good skill guys. Phil Weinseimer, their quarterback, is a three-year starter. He was hurt a lot of last year, but he’s a real talented passer, so they’re going to go up and sling it a little bit. I think one thing you’ll notice about New Hope is that they’re very well coached. Jim Ditulio is going to build a different type of program now that he’s in a different league. You’ll see them competitive before too long, and it wouldn’t shock me if they won a couple of games this year.
“I like William Tennent’s chances. I was talking to (coach) Rich Clemens last week, and he’s got some skill guys back. His quarterback, Matt Miller, is back. They have some of their backs back. Automatically, they walk in and they think they’re going to win games this year, and that’s a different mentality. Competing in a league where schools are relatively their size, and quite honestly, they’re going to be competing against teams they’re bigger than, so they have a chance to have a real good season in this conference and put their stamp on something. Again, it’s a five-game schedule, and they’re still trying to get their fifth game, but it will be interesting to see how that plays out. Without Cheltenham, that conference is wide open now.”