Derry to use group of tailbacks to replace graduate Balega
Derry’s offense in 2016 revolved around shifty tailback Tyler Balega, who led the Trojans to a conference title with an undefeated record and a trip to the WPIAL semifinals.
Now a freshman at Seton Hill, Balega is already opening the eyes of his new college coaches. He rushed for 1,726 yards and 27 touchdowns and caught 14 passes for 184 yards and two scores last season.
That production won’t be easy to replace, but Derry’s running game isn’t dead.
Back in the Trojans backfield is senior Shawn Broadway, who rushed for 453 yards and five touchdowns. He ran for 114 yards and two touchdowns against Southmoreland when Balega was sidelined with an injury and added 74 yards against Frazier.
“It’s more than just replacing Tyler,” Derry coach Tim Sweeney said. “There were other guys like Owen Whitacre, Noah Wiencek and Shawn who carried the football. Tyler was our feature back, but we needed those guys to step up in multiple roles.
“What we can’t let happen is allow a defense to key on one person. If defenses wanted to take away Tyler, we found other ways to exploit what they were doing defensively and sting them.”
Sweeney said the success of running game starts up front with how well the line blocks.
“Tyler isn’t necessarily replaceable, but with Shawn being the heir apparent, it’s in good hands with him. He’ll be the first guy to touch the ball for us.”
Broadway won’t be the only player carrying the load. Junior Justin Flack, who ripped off a 53-yard touchdown run in the WPIAL semifinals against Aliquippa, as well as senior Onreey Stewart and sophomore Justin Huss will see carries.
“Their work ethic has been outstanding all summer,” running backs coach Mark Thomas said. “They are confident in the offense we’re running, and they each have their own special thing that they add to the offense.
“I like where we’re at as far as the running backs. They’re going to set their own standards and be their own back.”
Broadway said he’s ready to carry the load, but he also knows for Derry to be successful, other players must step up.
“We have enough skilled players where we can switch in and out. We just need to continue to work hard,” Broadway said. “I think we can be as good as or better than last year’s team. Justin can catch the ball and is fast, and Onreey and Justin are good.”
Flack has spent the offseason getting bigger and stronger. He was disappointed where he was weight-wise during his sophomore season, so he worked hard in the weight room.
The touchdown against Aliquippa helped him end the season on a high note.
“I just wanted to boost the team confidence for this season,” Flack said about his touchdown run. “The first person I saw after I scored was Kerek Hoffman, and he hugged me and congratulated me on my first varsity touchdown. It’s something I won’t forget.”
He hopes to make a big impression this season in the Derry backfield.
“Shawn has the experience, and he’ll do what Tyler did,” Flack said. “Some people are saying just because we don’t have Tyler back, we’ll have trouble running ball. We have Shawn and Onreey that can run the ball like Tyler, and hopefully my extra work pays off.”