Zephyrs look to continue to build their program
Every season brings a new set of challenges, and the Whitehall football team had a number of them thrown their way this season as they looked to defend their district title.
Even before the season began, they knew they had to replace a substantial portion of their offense when quarterback Ethan Parvel left for Emmaus. They also had to overcome the loss of last year’s leading tackler when Josh Novak was lost for the year in their preseason scrimmage.
Injuries took another toll when senior Mekhi Lee suffered ligament tears in their loss to Easton in week two. Before the injury in the game against the Rovers, Lee was making plays in all three phases of the game, an impressive performance by the senior against Easton who had a 40-yard touchdown reception, and eight tackles on defense.
They lost two vital pieces and were in the midst of an 0-2 start. It would continue to be an uphill climb, and after a tough loss to Emmaus the following week, they unpacked their biggest offensive output in a number of years when they rolled up 75 points against Allentown Central Catholic.
That would be their lone win until the season’s final game against Northampton, defeating the Kids 36-34 in their annual Cement Bowl clash.
While they finished 2-8 in the EPC South, the Zephs still put up good offensive numbers, scoring 264 points this season, a number of those scores coming on big plays over 30 yards. They showed their dynamic playmaking ability led by receiver Allen Negrete who averaged a little over 67 yards per game, finishing with 672 yards to lead the team.
But it was on the other side of the ball where they had trouble. They allowed 439 points this season, the bulk of those coming in the final two quarters of their games.
It may well have been a different story if Novak, Lee and Parvel were still part of the mix, but head coach Justin Kondikoff said that football, as in life, continually presents challenges, and it’s through those moments that a team’s character is on display.
“You have to respond to those and remain positive,” said Kondikoff who just completed his first season as the team’s interim head coach.
He said that there were a lot of positives this year as they strived to get better each week.
“We had a lot of great kids on this team,” he said.
That was especially indicative of the seniors who worked hard all season and their effort got rewarded on the final game of the season against Northampton. That game was impacted by a number of their seniors, including Chad Hussett, Joe Herman, Jacob Heffner and Justin Santiago.
“They showed up and played with everything they had, and had a great memory,” said Kondikoff.
He said those four were great team leaders, and it extended to the locker room s well as the field.
“They set a good example,” said Kondikoff.
They’ll graduate a number of players who played substantial roles this season. They lose Hussett, who led the team in rushing with 736 yards. They also lose Herman, who led the team in receiving touchdowns with nine. He finished 2018 with 19 catches for 553 yards.
Of the starters on the offensive line, they’ll only lose Santiago to graduation. However, his departure leaves a big hole, both in terms of talent and leadership.
They also lose receiver/defensive back Heffner who caught 14 passes for 176 yards. He also threw for a TD this season. But it was on the defensive side of the ball where he really impacted the game, leading the team in tackles with 88.
They’ll lose Liam Sullivan on the outside (three receptions), as well as Robert Furlong.
Also leaving the program is linebacker Ben Hudak, who was third on the team in tackles with 42.
Linebacker Anthony Johnson also departs. He was tied with Hudak for third on the team in tackles and had an interception and fumble recovery, the latter turning into a TD as he scooped it up and went 94 yards.
Also graduating are Jaden Henninger, Nikolas Peacock, Brandon Gawrys, Marino Collazo and Kyle Saylor, Carlos Arroyo-Jimenez and Nahum Molina.
They’ll also graduate a substantial portion of their special teams, as kickers Aziz Atiyeh and Alex Khouri depart. Kondikoff said that Khouri really worked hard on his craft, showing great improvement from his sophomore season. He finished the year 34-of-36 in extra points, and netted 38.25 yards for the year as the punter.
While they lose a number of stellar players, they have a strong group returning.
Offensively, they have quarterback Anthony Nanoah returning. Nanoah finished the season with 1,261 yards, including 16 TDs. He also rushed for 426 yards.
Kondikoff said that the junior had a lot on his plate, and he handled it well. In their offense, the quarterback is tasked with making a lot of reads in their RPOs, so he needed to adapt and learn a lot on the fly. He became more comfortable as the season progressed.
“He adjusted to all that,” said Kondikoff.
Kondikoff said that expect even more things from him next season.
Tailback Ali Barkley also returns. He finished the 2018 campaign with 216 yards before getting injured early in the Nazareth game.
Kondikoff said that they’ll be relying heavily on Barkley to become their feature back. He also said that the junior has an extremely high ceiling and a lot of potential.
They’ll also have Negrete returning whose big-play capabilities were on showcase throughout the year.
Perhaps the biggest boost will be that most of their O-line returns. Kondikoff said that tackles Javal Reyes and Randy Okungu return, as well as guard Steele Hess and center Eli Nuscher.
“That will help out a lot,” said Kondikoff.
They’ll also return back Anthony Daddona, tight end Zack Hartman, and linebacker Robert Schlenker. Schlenker emerged as one of their most consistent defensive stoppers, finishing second on the team in tackles with 47.
Also on the horizon is a freshman team that went 9-1, and Kondikoff expects that those players will push the upperclassmen for playing time.