Throughout last season, Conor Furey wore No. 76 and played offensive tackle for Archmere.
But during the week of practice leading up to the opening round of the DIAA Division II state playoffs, the Auks made a giant change.
“We had no idea it was coming,” St. Georges coach J.D. Maull said. “We were out there in the pregame wondering where [Furey] was at, and we saw this kid wearing No. 80 and we realized it was him. It caught us off guard.”
Furey changed numbers, moved to tight end and caught a 21-yard touchdown pass as No. 8 seed Archmere upset the undefeated, top-seeded Hawks 19-13.
Furey is back for his senior season, bigger and better than ever at 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds. And this year, he will play tight end all season.
“It’s definitely going to be more fun,” Furey said. “Hopefully, I can go out, run some patterns and score some touchdowns.”
Furey had been asking Archmere coach Jerry Ambrogi for a shot at catching passes since his freshman year. A 24-0 loss to St. Elizabeth in last year’s regular-season finale convinced the coach to make the move.
“With spikes on he’s 6-6 and 235 pounds, and that’s tough for a safety or corner to cover,” Ambrogi said of Furey. “I learned from the week before, when we played St. Elizabeth and we didn’t have an answer for Andre Patton. I thought if I could find a difficult matchup for the other team it would make us better.”
The Auks should present matchup problems across the board this season, with QB Brian Rogers, 6-4 WR J.M. Nocket, FB-LB Connor Speidel and RBs Jack Malloy, Ryan Beatson, Francis McVey and Collin Duffy all returning.
“I really like our quarterback,” Ambrogi said. “I think Brian Rogers is one of the top five quarterbacks in the state. He’s got a golden arm, he’s gotten faster, he’s tall – almost 6-3. I expect him to have a big year for us.”
An excellent student, Furey already has caught the eye of college recruiters and has narrowed his choices to Yale or Penn. An entire season at tight end should benefit him down the road.
“His skill set fits really well at tight end,” Ambrogi said.
“He’s got phenomenal hands, he’s got good speed for somebody his size. He has been a tackle for us the last three years, so he knows how to block. It’s a good fit for him as he goes to the next level.”
Furey, who also excels at defensive end, is excited about the prospect of getting the ball in his hands more often.
“I’ve worked on catching the ball every day I could,” Furey said. “Just throwing on the beach, in the driveway, here at the field. I’ve made a lot of catches.”
A quick look at the other teams not affiliated with a conference:
CARAVEL: The defending Division II state champion Buccaneers (13-0) will look to continue riding high with QB Derrick Groomes, RBs Darnell Savage and Aaron Hudson and LBs Matt Boylan and Dennis Robinson. Caravel must tackle a schedule that includes serious D-II title contenders Hodgson, Archmere and St. Georges, plus a trip to Episcopal Academy (Pa.), which went 10-0 last season.
SALESIANUM: The Sals went 10-2 last season, losing only to Middletown in the regular season and Division I state championship game. Salesianum plans to incorporate the pistol and open up the offense, with leadership from RB-LB Troy Reeder (committed to Penn State), TE-DE Brian O’Neill (committed to Pittsburgh), QB-DB Matt Sgro, RB-LB Daulton Gregory and lineman Ben Mersman.
ST. MARK’S: The Spartans graduated 24 seniors from a 9-3 team that reached the Division I semifinals, but return their entire offensive backfield with QB Zach Whitehead, FB Markquise Normand and RBs Rhett Schweizer, Taaron Brown and Michael Catalano.
ST. ELIZABETH: The Vikings, 6-5 last season, will go into the fall without at least one of the Patton brothers for the first time in five years. Four seniors – LB Shane Davis, TE Joe Schiavoni, CB Sonny Davis and OT Zack Jasinski – will lead the way.
DELAWARE MILITARY ACADEMY: The Seahawks went 7-4 last year and reached the Division II playoffs for the first time. This year, with no home field, DMA will play in 10 different stadiums and take on D-I heavyweights St. Mark’s and Salesianum. The Seahawks will rely on four seniors – WR-DE Tyler Lewis, RB-DE Tyler Hill, RB-LB Trampas Henderson and QB-DB Sean O’Brien – plus junior OL-LB Juan Morrow.
The coaches at Conrad and Moyer Academy could not be reached for comment.