ELMORE – Brian Spicer knows a thing or two or about taking over a football program.
The well-traveled coach is entering his first year at the helm of the Woodmore Wildcats and being “the new guy” is nothing new for him. The 17-year coaching veteran is making is seventh stop as a head coach. Prior to arriving at Woodmore, Spicer has blown whistles at East Canton, Marlington, Marietta, Albany High School in New York, Hillsboro and last season coached at Westfall High School in Williamsport.
And through all his stops, Woodmore is presenting him with a challenge he’s never seen before.
“I had a team last year that I said was the youngest team I’ve ever seen as a first-year coach,” Spicer said. “This team tops that. We really just don’t have the experience.”
Last year, in his first and only season at Westfall, Spicer took over a team that suffered heavy losses to graduation. After an 0-3 start to the season, Westfall won four its next five and went on to qualify for the Division V playoffs.
The key, he said, to a first-year coach being successful is how quickly players accept a new coach and embrace his system. He said the buy-in at Woodmore has come much faster than he’s used to.
“The big difference here has been the acceptance,” Spicer said. “When you have a new coach coming in and a senior group who have been with the previous coach for three years, there is a loyalty built in there, (they say) ‘I had this guy for three years and I have you for one.’ They question everything and, in Westfall, that’s what they did.”
Though the Wildcats have been buying what their new coach has been selling, few Woodmore players know any different. With just three starters back on offense and four on defense, Spicer and his coaching staff inherited a roster short on experience and long on youth.
“We have a quarterback that maybe threw 12 passes all year,” Spicer said. “My leading running back had three carries. My leading receiver, I think, had four catches. But it gives the kids all fresh starts.”
Connor Bringman will take over at quarterback and will be joined in the backfield by Ian Weishuhn, Todd Williams, Logan Fonseca and Jeremy Cuevas who will form a running back-by-committee for the Wildcats. Sophomores DJ Wellons, JT Atkin and senior Ross Wolford will line up as receivers.
“There is a level of skill players that is phenomenal. Our skill players here are really good,” Spicer said. “We don’t quite have as many linemen as we did (at Westfall), because it was a bigger school, but at the same time, that’s where my most experienced players are. So that’s a good thing.”
While Woodmore ran a spread offense last year, Spicer’s version of the offense won’t be as dependent on the passing game. The Wildcats look to be more balanced using a variety of formations and personnel.
“Last year we were a pass-first offense. We wanted to throw,” senior Logan Fonseca said. “This year we have two backs in the backfield, last year it was one. We have four running backs we’re going to look at and they’re all going to be pretty good, I’m sure.”
Spicer said the Wildcats’ inexperience will only resolve itself with time. No practice of preseason scrimmage will sufficiently replicate playing on Friday night. But once the Wildcats’ youngsters get over the adjustments, he believes Woodmore will grow up in a hurry.
“We’re going to need a few games under our belt before we see some of that maturity,” Spicer said. “We talked about it the other day and said ‘Everybody who hasn’t played on Friday night, raise your hand.’ A lot of hands went up.
“I’m going to ask them after Game 1, who hasn’t played on Friday night and we’re not going to see many hands. You instantly are a veteran. Nobody can say you haven’t been out here.”
Coach: Brian Spicer (first year)
Last season: 6-4 (3-4 Northern Buckeye Conference).
Key losses: Jake Matwiejczyk (QB); Tony Rozzi (RB); Evan Ulinski (WR).
Key Returners: Colin Sandrock (Jr., OL); John Williams (Sr., OL); Dustin Haar (Jr., DL); Ben Wilt (So., OL/LB); Logan Fonseca (Sr., RB/DB); Jeremy Cuevas (Sr., WR/RB/LB); Josh Cowell (Sr., WR/DB).
Key newcomers: Connor Bringman (Jr., QB); Ian Weishuhn (Sr., RB/DL); Todd Williams (Jr., RB/LB); DJ Wellons (So., WR/DB); JT Atkin (So., WR/DB); Ross Wolford (Sr., WR); Andy Hernandez (Sr., OL/DL); Drew Lewandowski (Sr., LB); Ross Weirich (Jr., DB)
Outlook: Woodmore is going to be in store for a bit of a learning curve as 2014 kicks off. New coach Brian Spicer is tweaking the Wildcats’ spread offense and has to do so despite losing much of the offensive production from a year ago. Woodmore will be young and may take a few weeks to get up to speed at the varsity level. The Wildcats must replace quarterback Jake Matwiejczyk, running back Tony Rozzi and receiver Evan Ulinski. Though their replacements are young and inexperienced, Spicer is encouraged by his team’s raw skill and speed. The sooner Woodmore’s players adjust to their new roles, the sooner the Wildcats will be able to win games and look to improve on 2013, which was the program’s best season in a decade.