Trying to go further
Northwestern Lehigh’s project to install artificial turf in Tiger Stadium is nearing completion and the team can’t wait to check it out. Their practices have been on grass as the work continues and they open the season on the road at Notre Dame (Green Pond) before hitting the turf at home for week two.
Meanwhile, the team’s attention at practice has been focused on looking to go even further than last season when the Tigers reached the District 11 semifinals, losing to Saucon Valley.
Northwestern quarterback Deven Bollinger has put all personal goals aside and has targeted district gold as his primary objective for the season. With the quickness of Bollinger and the rest of the skill position players, the senior signal caller is looking forward to having a turf field at Tiger Stadium.
“Our biggest games last year were on turf - at Northern Lehigh against Central Catholic and at Palmerton we put up 49 points, so a lot of our big games came on turf fields and I know our skill guys are especially looking forward to playing on turf,” Bollinger said.
Like every team, Northwestern lost some key players to graduation, but the Tigers are fortunate in that they also have a good amount of returning players who have varsity experience.
Coach Josh Snyder likes to keep the offensive attack balanced and Bollinger, who can throw and pull the ball down to run, is the perfect quarterback for Snyder’s offense. Snyder is looking to continue the Northwestern tradition of run first and playing everything off the ground game.
“As per usual, we’ll take what the defense gives us but obviously, we’ll have a game plan,” said Snyder. “We feel confident that we’ll be able to run the football and throw it as well. It all starts for us in the run game, use play action and throw off of that and screen off of that and if we have to, we can throw it.”
Nick Henry returns in the backfield and will be joined by Jayden Allen, who figures to see more carries than last season. Bollinger has a talented set of receivers in Justin Rodda will also play an even more prominent role along with Justin Holmes, who moves up to full-time work opposite Rodda.
The offensive line is experienced and is anchored by three-year starter Conner Snyder at guard. Fellow seniors Derek Hebelka, Joey Shorts, Hale Trotter and Robbie Goldberg are also holding down their spots.
“We feel pretty good about our skill guys and we have a lot of talented seniors on the line and we know what they can do for us, so we’re definitely set there,” said Snyder.
New defensive coordinator Greg Mitchell is going to keep much of the game plan devised by Scott Hippensteel in place, but with the added experience, hopes to have a more aggressive unit than the Tigers have had in the past. There are some position battles still going on at linebacker, but Snyder is encouraged by the play from the combatants. He’s also sensing a new feel to the defense this season.
“We’re dictating a little bit more of what we want to do rather than seeing what the offense is giving us and then basing our things on them,” Josh Snyder explained. “We’ll be very active in our blitz packages and defensive schemes, showing multiple packages on defense.”
As on the other side of the ball, the defensive line is battle tested. Northwestern Lehigh will run a lot of 30-package schemes, with seniors Connor Snyder and Mike Marrazzo working with junior Owen Coffield on the line. With battles still being waged at linebacker, Josh Snyder does have seniors Hebelka and Dom Harding set as linebackers. Holmes will be at one safety position with Henry and Rodda playing the corner spots on a regular basis. Sophomore Taylor Wikert has had an impressive camp and figures to see some time in the secondary this season.
Last season, Northwestern finished at 8-2, tied for second in the Colonial League behind Notre Dame (Green Pond), which finished 9-1. With that in mind, keep an eye on the first week matchup as the Tigers travel to Notre Dame to face the Crusaders as the competition starts early.
“They’re always a good team, so we’ll get a test right away,” said Snyder. “I know both teams will be ready and it should be a good one.”