Vin Mercogliano checking in. Here’s my practice report from Edgemont:
Turnout has been an issue at Edgemont in years past, which prompted the powers that be to explore the possibility of combining its team with neighboring Woodlands, but the 2014 season seems to have brought newfound interest in the program.
The Panthers had 35 players show up on Monday for their first official practice of the new season – as opposed to an average of 25 in previous years – and the strong numbers have been a cause for optimism.
“It was a possibility, but it’s only a possibility when you don’t have enough guys,” Edgemont coach Matt Bernstein said. “This year, I’m surprised that we’ve had so many, but the guys have done a great job of recruiting their friends who usually don’t do anything in the fall to come and experience football. Everyone is really excited, and I know that Woodlands has their team. It would only be in a dire (situation for us to combine) – if we were looking at not having a team anymore.”
Several skill players rotated during positional drills, with lines forming at each station to signify the improved depth. But for guys that have been around the program like senior TE/DE DJ Chao, the attitude of the new players was more important than their presence alone.
“The guys that we have out here are working really hard, and that’s something that we’ve had trouble with,” Chao said. “Not only with the numbers, but just the guys really having an energy about them so that they can give 110 percent on every rep. These guys have been giving more than that, and it’s something that you can’t really ask for out of a lot of people.”
While combining with Woodlands would have provided each position with more competition, Edgemont players were pleased that they have enough bodies to scrimmage and create game-like situations during practice.
“It’s definitely going to help us because everybody is going to be able to get more reps in,” senior lineman Alec Bieber said. “Everybody out here is going to be able to help the team. Even the twos, it’s going to help us to having a full defense to go against us when we’re running our offense, and vice versa. We’re going to be able to get a good look against everybody.”
• The Panthers got off to a slow start last season at 1-3, but rallied to win their final four games and finish up at 5-3. The hope is that momentum will carry into ’14. “I definitely think that we have the potential to have a very good season,” Bieber said. “I think we can make the playoffs and go far.”
• By pretty much all accounts, the strength of the team should be the guys up front. The offensive line, which Bernstein refers to as the “U-Hauls,” returns four of its five starters from last season – Bieber, John Lee, Steven Manni and Kevin Hutchins – and they’ll rely on them to pave the way for some inexperienced backs. “It’s going to be a huge asset for us,” Bieber said. “We say little things in the game, like key words, and we’re just comfortable around each other. For me and John Lee, we’ve been playing next to each other at center and guard since seventh grade, and we know what we’re thinking at every time.”
• Anubhav Nanavaty returns at QB after splitting time last season, but Bernstein said that it’s not a given that he’ll be the starter. He had a handful of guys getting reps at the position on Monday, with some guys looking better in the pocket and others looking strong on the move. Bernstein mentioned Aahan Naik and Luke Charlton as others who are getting long looks. Charlton is new to the team, but he’s big presence in the pocket with a strong arm. “(Nanavaty) split time last year, but Aahan Naik has put in time and we have a new guy who is here,” Bernstein said. “(Charlton)’s like 6-5 and could be a productive quarterback, so we have guys who are going to compete to play at every position. But at quarterback you have to have a competition, or else those guys never get better.”
• For the record, the Edgemont players that I spoke with didn’t seem as opposed to the idea of combining with Woodlands as you might think. “Last year and the year before that, we would have joint practices with Woodlands every other week,” Chao said. “So, we were very close with the Woodlands group, and we were pretty excited for that, because that would bring a new dynamic and new energy. We would have a much larger team, so practices would be more competitive. It certainly wasn’t viewed as a bad thing, it’s just that some people may have been worried about positions that they’d had before.”