|Upper Perk tailback John Olson, above with the ball, willbe one of the key weapons in this year's game plan. Olson had 215 carries for1,191 yards and 13 scores last season.
Keith Leamer has seen up close and personal what a difference a year can make.
The Upper Perkiomen football coach, in his eighth year at the helm, saw his underclassmen take their share of lumps in 2010 as they finished 5-7 overall, 4-5 in the Pioneer Athletic Conference.
The silver lining that accompanied that respectable season was the fact that those younger players in 2010 were gaining invaluable experience. And now that the 2011 season is under way, Leamer and company are reaping the dividends.
“Anytime you have that kind of experience it’s critical,” Leamer said. “The kids are more mature, they’ve been through the trenches, they’re better both physically and mentally. Hopefully that will all continue on the field.”
Of Upper Perk’s 53-man varsity roster, over 70 percent are either juniors or seniors. To break it down by grade, the Tribe features 25 seniors and 14 juniors. It translates to nearly the entire defense from last season, and the bulk of the same cast of characters on the offensive side of the ball.
One of the new additions is at quarterback, where junior Dylan Wesley will take the reigns from Casey Perlstein, who is playing for Kutztown University this fall.
“Dylan is progressing well,” Leamer said. “I told him he doesn’t have to be Casey Perlstein, he needs to manage our offense, and get the ball in the hands of the people that need to.”
Those key weapons Wesley will look to on offense are wide receiver Ronnie Gillespie and tailback John Olson. Gillespie caught 45 passes for 1,028 yards and 12 scores as a junior, as Olson kept pace on the ground with 215 carries for 1,191 yards and 13 scores.
Fullbacks Dalton Fleming and Kyle Fox, tailback Quinn Perlstein and wide receiver Devyn Kerr will aid that dynamic duo. Up front, the line will be anchored by senior center and co-captain Cody Caciolo, guards Jody Peart and Dan Heinrichs, tackles Dave Weller and Matt Beidler and tight ends Marshall Henry and Zach Chatman. Fleming will handle the punting duties, with Leland Yoder taking the short field goals and extra points, and Elijah Bartholomew booting the kickoffs and long field goals.
“Offensively, we will look a little different, but it’s still the same stuff,” Leamer said. “Our alignments are where we are different - we will motion more so we can be high-paced and quick.”
Defensively the team lost just two starters from last year, and will return three of the top four tacklers from 2010 who include Fleming, Fox and Peart. Other key contributors up front include Marshall, Andy Long, Justin Cruz, James Clingman, John Hovanec, Chatman and Beidler. Linebackers are Fleming, Caciolo, Peart, Heinrichs and Ryan Harris. The secondary will feature Olson and Nick Kozrad at corner, with safeties Jesse Freer and Fox, with Gillespie seeing some time.
After two preseason scrimmages, Upper Perk will get its first taste of game action tomorrow night at 7 p.m. as the Indians host Quakertown. The Tribe will travel to Upper Moreland next Friday, Sept. 9 before opening up the league portion of the schedule Sept. 16 at Pottsgrove.
“We took our share of lumps last year but we were young boys playing against grown men and it showed,” Leamer said. “Hopefully we will be more physical and have the opportunity to get back at those teams for beating us up.”