By all means, last year was a successful one for the Old Forge Blue Devils football team.
But, by no means will this year’s squad be burdened by trying to match last year’s version of the Blue Devils and head coach Mike Schuback will see to that.
“I really believe this, whole-heartedly, when it’s over and done with, when that new year starts, whatever you did in the past is done,” Schuback said. “You can’t change it; you either have to look at it and appreciate it, or look at it and make your corrections from it – and that goes in your personal and professional life.
“So at the end of the day, we use our experiences from last year to make us better, but I don’t think we’re trying to duplicate that year. Every year in single-A football you are a total different team, and sometimes you are successful, sometimes you’re not.”
But with eight starters back on defense and five on offense, expectations will be high in Old Forge. Schuback knows that with do many experienced players back, the Blue Devils have a good shot at a Lackawanna Football Conference Division III title again, as well as another District 2 playoff berth. But this team wants to do it on its own accord.
“We’ve been blessed to be successful, and we’ve also felt we’ve had the kids to be successful. Once they buy in to what you’re teaching, the sky’s the limit,” Schuback said. “These guys are focused this year on being a little bit of a different team, they want to be more of a Big Ten team, line up and go right at you, and I think that a great attitude to have as a player.”
They already know they have to put the time and effort in practice to continue the school’s recent run of success.
“Obviously we want to build on what we accomplished last year and as a program over the last three, four years, so we feel fortunate to have been in two district championship playoff games,” Schuback said. “We want to get to that point again, but we also understand that every week, it’s imperative to focus and take every game as serious as possible because you have to play the game, you can’t overlook someone and worry about the next week.”
Five two-way starters return, led by senior linemen Ryan Paulish, Joe Bruno and Paul Papi, and they are three big reasons for Schuback’s confident outlook despite heavy losses to graduation at quarterback and tailback.
“The offense, with the stability we have up front with everybody returning except one player, is ahead of the defense,” Schuback said. “We do an awful lot with those guys up front, and they communicate like nobody’s business. I’m proud of those guys. Defensively, a lot of it is reaction; you’re not seeing what other teams are doing in practice. Offensively, we know where we want to be and what we want to do.”
Fullback Jorden Sekol and tight end Shane Schuback, two more seniors, are joined by junior Bobby Rinaldi at linebacker, giving coach Schuback another area of strength. Factor in returning senior safety Jake Manetti, who is also the quarterback, and junior Brandon Vahey, and the components for having a strong defense are in place.
But a rugged schedule looms ahead for Old Forge, particularly early on while the offense may still be looking for consistency.
“I believe that Week 1, and all the way up to Week 5, are going to be huge weeks for us, because we play some big schools with some established programs as well, and great tradition,” Schuback said. “Right now we’re just taking it one day at a time at practice and try to get the best effort out of every one of our players.”
The first half of the season opens with home games against Lake-Lehman (Aug. 30) and Meyers (Sept. 6), followed by a trip to Holy Redeemer (Sept. 14). The Blue Devils visit Dunmore on Sept. 20 in Week 4, followed by hosting rival Riverside on Sept. 27.
That leaves plenty of time to get the kinks out before the start of LFC III play in Week 6.
It’s also plenty of time for the Blue Devils to establish their own identity.