Backfield combo could help Wolverines return to title game
One year ago, then-defending WPIAL Class AAAA champion Woodland Hills had lost every player that scored a touchdown the previous season to graduation.
The Wolverines returned to the title game anyway.
Graduation hit hard again, taking away six players that went on to Division I-A or I-AA and leaving only one player that started all last season on defense, but Woodland Hills returns a lot more touchdowns this time and has the talent to contend again in Quad A.
‘We have a lot of work to do this year,’ Woodland Hills head coach George Novak said. ‘We’re coming off two of the best seasons in Woodland Hills history. I think people expect us to be good. We have the potential to be a very good team.’
Two very big reasons for that optimism are returning seniors who combined to run for 1,908 yards and 29 touchdowns a year ago – quarteback Steve Breaston and running back Kareen Dutrieuille.
‘They carried us last year and did a lot of great things,’ Novak said. ‘Other kids have to work hard to give them opportunities to do what they can do.’
Senior Doug Connors will line up ahead of Dutrieuille at fullback, with junior Mark Yezovich also seeing time there.
Junior Ryan Mundy showed promise at receiver and is in the mix there with Brad Lang and Brian Coleman. Austin Novak started at tight end a year ago and is getting some Division I attention.
Tackle Brian Borgoyn, another potential Division I recruit, will anchor the offensive line, but versatile J.P. Diroli is the only other returning offensive lineman who played a lot last year.
Center Matt Strauss was on the junior varsity a year ago. Seniors Shawn Zetkulic, Tom Halligan and Ryan Scott and junior Josh Bannister are battling for the guard spots. Juniors Rob Lichious and Phil Hall are in the mix at tackle.
The larger concerns for Novak are on defense, where Woodland Hills returns only one player who was a full-time starter a year ago – linebacker Larry Connelly.
Mundy, a strong safety, and senior lineman Lonnie DeOrio also return with some experience.
‘Defensively, we lost some great people,’ Novak said.
Senior Doug Selman is moving from offensive guard, where he started last year, to nose guard. Novak said he is trying to stick to his normal two-platoon system and play Selman only on defense.
‘He’s one of our best players,’ Novak said. ‘We need him to shore up the defense.’
Senior Vernon Little got some experience a year ago and also will play up front. Senior Billy Ray and junior Mark Malloy are options at defensive end and Zetkulick also could play on the defensive line.
Austin Novak, Yezovich and senior Rob Smiley are candidates at inside linebacker along with Connelly. Seniors Will Clark and Brad Lang are at the outside spots.
Woodland Hills has four new starters in the defensive backfield and injuries could be problem. The Wolverines have juniors Antoine Coleman and Chris Morgan at safety, and seniors Billy Brown and Mike Nesby at cornerback.
Morgan is recovering from a knee injury. Senior Keith Davis, who was expected to start at corner, tore the ACL in his knee at a college camp. He is hoping to come back some time during the season.
‘We’re optimistic,’ Novak said of the defense. ‘It will take time. They will make mistakes. We can correct those as we go. I think it can turn into good defensive unit.’