The teams kick off the season Thursday night at Stambaugh Stadium.
By PETE MOLLICA
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- A year ago Lock Haven opened the season against Division I-AA James Madison and was routed 72-0.
This year the Bald Eagles will take on I-AA power Youngstown State in the opener Thursday night at Stambaugh Stadium and coach Mark Luther hopes his team will be more prepared.
"Last year we definitely were not prepared for James Madison, but this year we are approaching this game with a whole different attitude," Luther said Tuesday.
Veteran team: Lock Haven finished the 2000 season with a 3-8 record and was 1-5 in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference, but the Bald Eagles return just about everybody from that team and Luther, in his second season, is optimistic.
"We are a good, solid football team defensively this season," he said. "We need for our defense to keep us in the game and give us a chance to win."
The Penguins, who have been picked as high as No. 4 in some I-AA polls, present a formidable task for Lock Haven, said Luther.
"This is going to be a great experience for all kids," he said. "Just the opportunity to play in that great environment and in front of that huge crowd will be something these kids will never forget."
The one position that the Bald Eagles do not have a returning starter is at quarterback. The leading candidate for the role is freshman redshirt Bill Witmer, a 6-foot, 185-pounder from Bellefonte, Pa.
"Bill is a very intelligent individual and he's performed very well for us in preseason camp," Luther said.
Senior Brian Genis (6-3, 225) is the backup, although he played in just four games a year ago.
Ground attack: The offense is geared around sophomore tailback Justin Marshall (5-10, 195), who started eight games last year and rushed for 507 yards and five touchdowns. Junior back David Secriskey (5-10, 185) rejoined the team after sitting out last year as a medical redshirt.
The Bald Eagles also have talent at wide receiver where sophomore Marcus Burkley (5-10, 170) is coming off a season that totaled 27 receptions for 631 yards and three touchdowns. He was named the PSAC Rookie of the Year.
"We are a basic power football team," Luther said. "We'll have to wait and see just how things progress on Thursday."
On defense, the Bald Eagles return starters at every position.
Senior defensive end Christopher Hileman (6-3, 246) was a second-team All-PSAC pick last year and junior linebacker Dan Wissinger (6-0, 220) had 76 tackles a year ago.
"This is going to be a huge challenge, but we're much better going into this game than we were a year ago entering the James Madison game," Luther added. "I hope we can go out and be a more competitive team this time. We are going to go out there and play hard with confidence.
"The majority of our offense is young, but as a unit they are coming together. This year's group has more talent and is picking up the system quickly after a productive preseason. Our defense has a little more experience than the offense. I'm expecting big things from our defensive line and linebackers," Luther added.
This will be the first meeting between the teams since 1966, when the Penguins posted a 36-6 victory at Rayen Stadium.