Blue Devils coach Paul Piccirilli expects challenges from Wilmington and Kennedy Catholic.
By BILL ALBRIGHT
Now that the Mercer County Athletic Conference has asserted itself as a major factor in football, one might wonder to what degree the accomplishments of last year will carry over to the 2001 season.
Sharpsville probably has the biggest contingent of returnees. The Blue Devils lost only four starters from last year's championship team, and that has coach Paul Piccirilli upbeat as he prepares his team for the season.
"We have a lot of returning starters," said Piccirilli. "I know that Wilmington is going to be back again and Kennedy [Catholic] always picks up eight or nine starters every year from whichever way they do it, so yes, things are going to be very competitive and it is quite feasible that the Mercer County teams that go to the playoffs will do what they did last year."
Injuries could hurt: However, as Piccirilli knows, you had better stay healthy if you are going to be successful.
"The only bad thing about an 'A' school is that you have to hope your injuries are minimal," he said. "When you have someone injured, you hope that he can return within a week or two, and you also have to hope that your backup can step in without [the team] losing too much."
Sharon coach Jim Wildman is hoping his team can overcome the departure of top-notch athletes such as Marlin Jackson, Terrance Phillips and Kevin Harris.
"You just don't replace athletes like them," Wildman said. "Someone said to me, 'Hey, it won't be the same team without watching those kids,' but it is never the same team from year to year. Every team takes on its own personality."
Cloudy at the top: Although it's hard to predict how a team will fare from year to year, certain schools still stand out, Wildman said.
"Wilmington in AAA will be good again, Sharpsville and Kennedy [Catholic] will both be tough in Class A and West Middlesex [A] certainly made some big strides last year," he said. "But realistically, I don't think things will begin to unfold and become somewhat clear until late October."
Wilmington lost some talented athletes from a squad that finished 12-2 overall, losing only to Sharon during the regular season, before falling to East Allegheny in the PIAA semifinals.
"What we accomplished last year was a pleasant surprise to the athletes and us coaches as well," said Wilmington coach Terry Verrelli. "Last year we basically started fresh with everybody new and we weren't expected to be that good.
Verrelli knows growth of his players again this year will take time.
"It is hard to win [at that level] with first-year guys stepping in there," he said. "It was just a great surprise for us and I think it is just a matter of tradition and kids knowing how to practice as well as knowing how to win."