Deep, experienced Freeport roster provides high expectations
As Freeport coach John Gaillot rattled off the names of the experienced group he has returning this fall, there was excitement and optimism in his voice.
Running the gauntlet position by position, Gaillot listed players who have multiple years of varsity football under their belt, such as quarterback Austin Romanchak and running back Conor Selinger, who are both seniors.
Then there are juniors Garret Schaffhauser and Isiah Bauman, who anchor the defense, and a line led by Jacob Leri, Garrett Smith and Pierce Craven that Gaillot said could run seven deep on both sides of the ball.
The depth and experience gives Freeport confidence it can be a factor again as it looks to build on a 7-3 season in which the Yellowjackets made the playoffs for the first time since 2015.
“We thought this group had quite a bit of potential, and if they stayed healthy they could reap the benefits going into their senior year,” Gaillot said. “They’re bigger, stronger, faster and more determined. We lost some key players last year, but this is a nice group coming back.”
The Yellowjackets graduated leading receiver and kicker Jake Sarver, leading tackler Austin Kemp and lineman Matt Charlton, but the majority of the roster remains intact.
Romanchak, who has a preferred walk-on offer at Penn State, and Selinger combined to rush for more than 1,300 yards and 20 touchdowns last season. Romanchak passed for nearly 500 yards and returns Evan McCrea and Bauman at receiver.
“We’ve all been playing since seventh grade together and some even before that,” McCrea said. “We’ve been adding on through the years with some new guys, but it’s been fun to see how we’ve progressed as a unit.”
It’s been fun for Gaillot to watch his backfield’s development since they debuted together as sophomores.
“That first year, they took some shots and showed us how tough they were,” Gaillot said. “They were small. I think Austin was 125 pounds his sophomore year, and Conor was maybe 160. They were pretty small kids for varsity sophomores. Now Conor is around 200 pounds, and Austin is around 165. They’re bigger and stronger.”
When Romanchak and Selinger line up this fall, they’ll do so behind a line Gaillot said has the potential of the line they had in 2011, which featured Jon Turner, Nathan Rummel and Shane McKillop.
Gaillot considered the 2011 unit to be the best line Freeport’s had in his tenure.
The Yellowjackets have a new offensive coordinator in former Knoch coach Mike King. Gaillot said he has been trying to get King to join his staff since he retired at Knoch in 2016 and finally convinced him to join this year.
The two have known each other since Gaillot was a rookie track and field coach at Freeport 24 years ago. He credited King for taking him under his wing at his first meet at Knoch, helping him mark the throwing events, and they’ve been friends ever since.
The interaction and adjustment to the new offense has been positive thus far.
“It’s been an easier transition to learn a new offense than most of us probably expected,” McCrea said. “It’s really cool considering that (King’s) dad coached (Freeport) back in the ’70s.
“It’s a little different. Most of the time, we’re running the same types of plays, but they are called something different, and they have a different scheme.”
On defense, losing Kemp -- the Allegheny Conference co-defensive player of the year -- creates a void, but the Yellowjackets return five of their top six tackling leaders in Selinger, Bauman, Patrick Keeley, Schaffhauser and Craven.
Realignment puts Freeport in a mostly new conference outside of keeping Burrell and Deer Lakes. Derry, Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic, Elizabeth Forward, Yough, Mt. Pleasant and Uniontown are new teams for Freeport in the Class 3A Big East Conference. Freeport played Yough in a Week Zero game last year.
“We’re looking at it as an exciting opportunity to face some new opponents,” McCrea said. “We really don’t know what to expect, so it will be more of a challenge for us. It’s good that we kept Deer Lakes and Burrell. It’s nice to have two teams that we know well, and we get to have good, old-fashioned rivalries with them.”
Freeport faces Derry and North Catholic right out of the gate, two teams that made the playoffs last year. If the Yellowjackets stay healthy, they’re hopeful of making a return to the playoffs, but they are also weary of the road they’ll take to get there.
“We know what we have, but we also know that it’s a difficult conference,” Gaillot said.
“My job is to make sure that everyone is focused every week. We have to have that one-game-at-a-time mentality and treat each game like it’s a playoff game.”
Coach: John Gaillot
2017 record: 7-3, 6-1
All-time record: 550-368-47
Date, Opponent, Time
8.31, Derry*, 7 p.m.
9.7, at CW North Catholic*, 7 p.m.
9.14, Elizabeth Forward*, 7 p.m.
9.21, at Uniontown*, 7 p.m.
9.28, Yough*, 7 p.m.
10.5, at Deer Lakes*, 7 p.m.
10.12, Burrell*, 7 p.m.
10.19, Mt. Pleasant*, 7 p.m.
10.26, at Knoch, 7 p.m.
*Class 3A Big East Conference game
Passing: Austin Romanchak
39-76, 494 yards, 6 TDs
98-680 yards, 13 TDs
Receiving: Jake Sarver*
16-186 yards, 2 TDs