Zephyrs conclude a great year
It was another superb season for the Whitehall football team as they repeated as district champs and earned another berth to the PIAA playoffs.
While head coach Brian Gilbert said that the goal is always trying to play into December, the Zephyrs won nine games and laid claim to another 5A title before being ousted by Wyoming Valley West in the opening round of the state playoffs.
Their road to their second consecutive District 11 championship was the result of senior leadership, team balance, and dedication, which fueled another gold medal season for the Zephyrs.
That senior leadership led to a number of individual accolades when the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference - South All-Stars were announced. Dez Boykin was named as a first team wide receiver, and was also selected as the Special Teams Player of the Year. Also getting the first team nod was senior guard Bret Legath, while senior center Jacob Hudak was another EPC first-teamer. Finally, Zephyr quarterback Ethan Parvel was the choice for first team signal caller, capping an outstanding debut season for the junior.
Additionally, senior Markes Cruz was named to the second team as a tackle, giving the Zephyrs five players on the all-star rolls this season.
The Zephyrs finished third in the EPC- South this season, agreeably the toughest division in high school football in the area. While they lost to eventual district champs, Parkland and Bethlehem Catholic, as well as perennial powerhouse Easton, Gilbert felt the losses to the Golden Hawks and the Red Rovers were the only ones in which they didn’t play their best football. As far as their loss to Wyoming Valley West in the state playoffs, they ran into a hot team with a physical offensive line that dictated play throughout the game.
Still, they avenged losses to Emmaus and Nazareth during the regular season and defeated a tough Southern Lehigh team to recapture the title.
An important piece of the second consecutive championship run was their offensive line, a group of veterans who’ve been playing together for three years. Those award-winning “hogs” included Cruz, Hudak, Legath, Michael Smith, Ian Kulp and Justin Santiago. Cruz, Smith Hudak and Legath will be graduating this spring, leaving a number of spots open for competition.
“That was really a special group,” said Gilbert. “I don’t know if I’ll ever have such great kids, great to coach, great to be around, always wanting to get better. They’re surely going to be missed.”
They’ll now look to rebuild that line with Kulp and Santiago as their anchors who will be entering their senior seasons next fall.
The backfield loses Braxton Marrero and Dabriel Ayala. Marrero was a 1,000-yard rusher for the Zephyrs this season, finishing with 1,046, while Ayala finished with 198. Gilbert said that he expects a new cast of ball carriers to emerge next season, including Shavar Hussett, Ali Barkley and Waheeb Wehbey, all of whom will get opportunities this season toting the rock.
However, Parvel returns for his senior campaign, building on a junior season that ranks as one of the best in school history. His 2,133 passing yards this season ranks third all-time behind Zach Gilbert and Chad Schwenk. Parvel’s 31 touchdown passes places him squarely behind Gilbert for the top spot in that category as he missed that mark by one toss. Additionally, the junior ran for 1,015 yards, scoring 10 TDs on the ground. His 41 combined touchdowns most likely sets a single season mark for TDs for a season at Whitehall.
The Zephyrs will lose arguably the most explosive player in the conference with the loss of Dez Boykin. The senior receiver had an outstanding career. His consecutive touchdown streak was halted in the final game against WVW, but he’s firmly rooted in the Zephyr record books. Boykin finished with 1,021 receiving yards this season, falling just short of the record he set last year. The senior also had 64 receptions, placing him third behind Tyler Artim’s 64 in 2010. Still, he now owns the first slot (76) in 2016 and third in 2017. He’ll also be the career reception yards leader, having amassed 2,357 the last two seasons. That puts him firmly ahead with 3,013 for his career.
Boykin also rushed for 462 yards this season, scoring another five touchdowns. He also had 336 return yards this season, adding another TD into that mix.
Gilbert said that Boykin’s stellar career resonated into the league record books as he finished second in receiving yards and fourth in receptions over his varsity play at Whitehall.
Still, the Zephs will have a number of players who saw plenty of time at the receiver position, including Joe Herman (15/317/5) and Allen Negrete (14/379/7) who will be back to lend their skills to another playoff run.
Defensively, the Zephs will lose some productive players including Boykin who was second on the team in tackles with 64. Additionally seniors Hudak, Joel Henninger, Roberto Rivera Colon, Darwin Cofield, Smith, Legath and Ayala all had a major impact on their defense.
Still, Gilbert said that they’ll be more experienced defensively coming into next season as leading tackler Joshua Novak returns. Novak emerged as a tackling machine from his linebacker spot, leading the team with 72 tackles. He’ll be joined by fellow linebacker Anthony Johnson, along with defensive backs Mekhi Lee, Jacob Heffner, Herman and Hussett.
While they’ll lose quite a number of important pieces, the Zephyrs have plenty of talent returning that will look to make 2018 another championship season.