Zephs filled with overachievers
Now that the lights have dimmed on Zephyr Football Stadium, the 2013 season becomes reflected in the collective memories of its players and coaches.
They finished 11-2, won a share of the Lehigh Valley Conference Championship for the second year in a row, and made it to the semifinals of the District XI AAAA sub regional tournament.
It was another successful year for the maroon and gold gang from Mechanicsville Road. The goal has always been to compete for a league and district title, and this year they were able to fulfill the former under the leadership of head coach Brian Gilbert.
After graduating 28 seniors heading into 2013, Gilbert said that most observers overlooked the Zephyrs because they had a lot of holes to fill. However, it was an opportunity for a number of players to assume those roles and keep the engine churning.
"Looking back, I had a group of overachievers," said Gilbert. "They really did a great job."
One of the biggest spots to fill after last season was the offensive line as only seniors Fouad Haddad and Shawn Glosek returned. That will be the same case this year as the Zephs graduate four of their five starters, including all-star guard Jacob Kerchner. Also departing is Jeffrey Cordon. That leaves Joseph Mark as the lone returning starter. In addition they also lose Lehigh Valley Conference all-star Nick Nejad at tight end.
This group paved the way for 2,556 yards rushing this season, and once again Gilbert said that getting this foundation in order will be a key to their 2014 season.
"It all starts up front," he said.
Quarterback Jeff Charles also graduates this season. The senior signal caller threw for 1,704 yards, including 11 TDs, and was named first-team all-LVC this season. His departure leaves another big hole to fill, and Gilbert has a number of options heading into next season.
Sophomore Gianni Sinatore saw some time under center this season, and will be one candidate for QB as next season approaches. Gilbert said that while Sinatore didn't see much varsity action (3-3, 10 yards), he took every junior varsity snap. He'll compete for the starting job along with junior Chad Rex, as well as incoming sophomore Zachary Gilbert.
Gilbert said that all the players are capable of becoming the starting quarterback and next summer will determine that.
The backfield returns two prominent players led by LVC all-star Saquon Barkley, who finished the season with 1,506 yards. He was also the second leading receiver on the team (21 catches for 353 yards) and set a school record for touchdowns in a season with 27. Jacob Buskirk also returns, and that will provide another talented back to the rushing attack.
However, they lose Ryan Bonshak who was an integral part of their offense, rushing for 629 yards, including 11 TDs. He was also a threat in the passing game, catching 15 passes for 206 yards and three scores.
Still, Gilbert is accustomed to losing this type of production to graduation, noting they came into the year minus Nick Shafnisky's 2,000-plus yards combined rushing and passing, but found a way to handle that load. He expects 2014 will be the same.
Some candidates include Ronny Okungo, Tyler Cyriax and Bryce Crum.
The receiving corps loses Nejad and Darius Young, but Conor Sullivan returns after posting a team-leading 598 receiving yards. He emerged as their go-to guy, and will fill in one spot while Zachary Hixson, who filled in after Nejad got hurt, will provide another experienced receiver at tight end. Returning are also Scott Howett and Mustafa Mitchell, and Rex also can play the position.
Gilbert expects one of those players to step up and have an impact next year. Mitchell, who was a beast on special teams, is someone Gilbert sees as having that impact.
"We have a lot of receiving talent back and I see a bright future for him."
The defensive line took a big hit, with most of the players along the O-line doubling on the defensive front. It will be another area they need to shore up, but they have two good building blocks with which to work. Danny Roustic returns after a good season in the trenches. He finished with 37 tackles which placed him sixth among defenders. They also have Orlando Bonilla back (28 tackles), along with Mark.
Linebacker Angel Rodriguez returns (47 tackles), as does Barkley, Cyriax and Dalton Burrows. They should be strong at that position heading into 2014.
The defensive backfield is another place where graduation leaves a big hole, with Bonshak, Young and Tyler Williams departing. However, Rex returns and the junior proved to be a ball hawk, intercepting three passes this season, one for a score. He also had 29 tackles and will provide a stabilizing force in the secondary. Mitchell also returns, as does Sullivan and Sinatore.
They also lose Jean Carlos Castro, Scott Howett, Corey Pace, Evin Zeno, Obaydah Moussa, Adam Rompilla and Alex Collazo.
Graduation took its toll on both sides of the ball as the Zephs lose six two-way players. Still, he's confident they can get the locomotive back on track.
As for Gilbert, he said he'll fondly remember this season.
"It was one of the most enjoyable years of coaching I ever had," said Gilbert. "I had a great group of guys to work with, and I think it was the leadership on the team that made it special."
With his 20th year of coaching now in the books, Gilbert said 2013 was one for the memory banks.