Delaware Valley High’s rise to a consistent winner has been as much about skill position stars — quarterback Chris Fennell and back Dionosio Roman at the front of the list — to the program’s ability to develop agile, strong and heady linemen.
The intelligence is a requirement in coach Mike Columbo’s single-wing that resulted in 3,171 rushing yards and 41 touchdowns last season. That was the third straight season the Terriers have rushed for at least 3,000 yards.
“It doesn’t happen by accident,” Columbo said.
A very stout line will get you there. Senior guard Matt Fennelly is an example of the surplus of Terrier big men who appear without much fanfare and develop into a critical cog.
“Matt was as good as I’ve ever had as far as a puller and trapper,” said Columbo of his performance last season.
Fennelly was playing for the Milford-based Riegel Ridge Rams youth team the last time Columbo’s Terriers had a losing season. That was in 2004 in Columbo’s first year as coach when DelVal went 2-8, a season after Matt Perotti left for Hunterdon Central.
Fennelly made it to the varsity as a sophomore in a regular-season game at Cedar Creek, then got some late-game snaps in a loss to Rumson-Fair Haven in the Central Group II semifinals. The guys up front in 2011 included All-Mid-State 38 Raritan Division linemen Mike Owens and Eric Bedard, helping Fennell (now at the U.S. Naval Academy) run for 1,508 yards and 17 touchdowns. The Terriers also won the division title and finished 9-2.
Last year, Fennelly and linemates Willie Britt (center), Jake Gerard (tackle), Tanner Dixon (tackle) and Alex McWilliams (guard) pushed the pile, helping Roman (now at Johns Hopkins) run for 1,749 yards and 21 touchdowns. The Terriers finished with a 7-3 record with a second straight Central Group II berth — Columbo’s fifth in nine years.
An outstanding line is what usually makes it happen
Britt, Gerard and McWilliams have graduated along with Roman, but Fennelly (6-0, 230) and Tanner Dixon (6-1, 230) remain as junior center James Tierney (6-2, 250), senior tackle Andrew Bloom (6-1, 230) and Max Baroczi (6-0, 250), and senior tight end Travis Crawford (6-3, 230) and Frank McHugh (6-2, 175) arrive to sustain the trench tradition.
“Our line has gotten a lot of hype,” said Columbo, adding that he makes sure to keep the group humble from time to time.
“We’re pretty confident but coach makes very sure we have the right mindset,” Fennelly said.
Senior Andrew Cooper moves from quarterback to the backfield as Chris Ambrose takes over at quarterback. Columbo said Cooper took the change in stride, something that didn’t go unnoticed by his teammates.
“We really love ‘Coop,’ ” Fennelly said. “He’s not afraid to lower his shoulder.”
That’s something the line does countless times in a game, especially for a team whose heart beats with the rhythm of the run.
“We don’t have just one guy who does it out of the backfield; we have many who can carry it for us,” Fennelly said. “Our motto is: it doesn’t matter who runs the ball, the guys up front block.”