Wilkes’ Drach To Bring Change
WILKES-BARRE — Wilkes is getting tweaked in coach Jonathan Drach’s first year with the Colonels.
On the field, he’s shifting the offense toward a slower style of play with huddles between snaps.
“We’ll shorten the football game significantly,” Drach said, “to make it a situation where we know we’ll be in better shape, better condition and better execution in the fourth quarter than, hopefully, our opponents.”
In the locker room, Wilkes will suit up in powder-blue alternate jerseys on certain game days.
Drach hopes to see a culture change within a program that last won a game during the penultimate week of the 2016 season. That means changing everything from the way his players approach academics to how they’ll enter home and away games: in a coat and tie.
“Handing the football to the officials. Dealing with people with respect. How they carry themselves in the classroom. Those are the things that we’re really harping on very hard,” Drach said.
“It’s going to be the little things.”
All that can be controlled right away.
Future wins and losses will come down to how an extremely young team handles the speed and physicality of the Division III level. Drach estimates freshmen and sophomores will comprise roughly 75 percent of his roster.
“But that doesn’t mean we can’t be a successful football team, too,” Drach said. “I think that for us, it’s a matter of taking care of what we do and not worrying so much about the outside factors more than anything else.”
Drach’s inaugural season leading the Colonels will include the following key players:
Jose Tabora had a breakout finish to the end of his freshman year in 2016. He was a 61.5 percent passer with eight passing touchdowns and four more on the ground — where he was second on the team with 348 yards (4.1 YPC) — during his limited debut season.
When Tabora was injured for the season early in his second start of 2017, three freshmen quarterbacks took snaps before the season ended. One of them, Wade Rippeon, is back at the quarterback position, where Drach left the starting role open before last week’s scrimmage.
“I think Jose Tabora has had a great camp so far,” Drach said. “He’s definitely a vocal leader and an emotional leader of our football team right now.”
Senior wide receiver Jeff Steeber got involved behind the line last year and is the top returning rusher with 219 yards (7.1 YPC).
Senior Jacob Kadis is the most experienced running back with 26 carries for 91 yards last season. But Steeber is the only Colonel who ran for a touchdown in 2017, so new faces are bound to emerge behind the line.
Former Northwest star Jake Anderson is among Wilkes’ freshman backs.
With star tight end Garrett Armstrong gone, Steeber, a Berwick graduate, is the top returning target after taking 36 catches for 344 yards and a pair of TDs a year ago. Drach has already seen enough to call him “probably one of the tougher kids I’ve coached,” as well as a nice vertical threat for the offense.
Sophomore Nick Yanik also brought in 15 receptions for 162 yards and two scores.
It’s a rather inexperienced group behind those two. Junior Derek Nelson had nine receptions, the same as running back Kadis.
This is where the Colonels’ offense finds the most
Hanover Area graduate and senior Anthony Marcincavage is a returning starter at center, and junior Mike Osayi is another starter back in the trenches.
The rest of the line could be composed entirely of freshmen, though Vincent Rogers is academically a sophomore and saw action in two games before an injury sidelined him in 2017.
“A little bit of vet leadership and some young guys around them,” Drach said. “But we’re not going to put a kid in a situation to fail. If they’re ready to start at that position, it’s because they’re physically ready to start at that position.”
Juniors Dane Tarantelli and Vinnie Werner both posted four tackles for loss and 2½ sacks last season.
They’re the two to watch control the line of scrimmage after strong sophomore seasons. Classmate Derek Schneider also saw action and tallied two sacks.
This unit boasts perhaps the most experience and veteran leadership.
Bud Moyer led the team with 107 tackles last year, 7½ for loss, and Lukas Wood followed with 90, 8½ for loss. They return for their junior and senior seasons. That’s not all. Michael Murphy makes it three returning starters after he finished fifth on the Colonels with 62 tackles.
Still, some younger players could work their way into playing time.
“There will be some young kids that’ll beat out some returners as well,” Drach said of his entire defense. “I still expect to have some young players on that side of the ball that are competing and rotating for us.”
While Drach said a few players can get a shot at safety, the cornerback roles seem a little more solid.
Converted running back Devon Fink, a senior, leads returnees with three pass breakups in 2017. Sophomore Amari Peterson hasn’t posted flashy stats yet, but Drach said, “He’s been probably the stalwart there right now in the secondary.”
Crestwood graduate Alexander DeSpirito transfers from Ursinus and will take over as placekicker and punter, according to Wilkes’ preseason notes. He carries freshman eligibility.
Contact the writer:
@CVEricShultz on Twitter
Coach: Jonathan Drach (first season)
2017: 0-10, 0-9 MAC (10th place)
Sept. 1 Hartwick, 1:30
Sept. 8 at Lebanon Valley
Sept. 15 at Delaware Valley
Sept. 22 Misericordia
Sept. 29 at Alvernia (at FirstEnergy Stadium)
Oct. 6 Albright (homecoming)
Oct. 12 at FDU-Florham, (Friday)
Oct. 20 at Stevenson, noon
Oct. 27 Lycoming
Nov. 3 Bye week
Nov. 10 King’s (Mayor’s Cup), noon
All games 1 p.m. unless noted
Wade Rippeon: 99-for-175, 753 yds, 3 TD
Jose Tabora: 23-for-35, 195 yds, 3 TD
Jeff Steeber: 31 att, 219 yds, TD
Jacob Kadis: 26 att, 91 yds
Jose Tabora: 12 att, 33 yds
Jeff Steeber: 36 rec, 344 yds, 2 TD
Nick Yanik: 15 rec, 162 yds, 2 TD
Derek Nelson: 9 rec, 61 yds
Bud Moyer: 107
Lukas Wood: 90
Michael Murphy: 62
Bud Moyer: 3.5
Lukas Wood: 3
Dane Tarantelli & Vinnie Werner: 2.5
Devon Fink: 3
Derek Schneider: 2
Three players: 1
District 2 connections
Jeremiah Acker, freshman fullback, North Pocono
Jake Anderson, freshman running back, Northwest
Damon Barhight, freshman defensive tackle, Wyoming Area
Andrew Chang, freshman free safety, Crestwood
Alexander DeSpirito, freshman kicker/punter, Crestwood
Bryce Harrison, junior tight end, Northwest
Quinn Jagoe, freshman inside linebacker, Lackawanna Trail
Anthony Marcincavage, senior offensive lineman, Hanover Area
Kris Seiwell, freshman inside linebacker, Nanticoke Area
Jeff Steeber, senior wide receiver, Berwick
Nic Vlacich, freshman cornerback, Honesdale