Ten of the 18 football teams in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference finished .500 or better last season. Eleven programs qualified for the District 11 tournament and three of them won District 11 titles.
The three district champions — Allentown Central Catholic, East Stroudsburg South and Freedom — joined EPC divisional champs Northampton and Parkland as teams who had accomplishments to celebrate last fall.
Bethlehem Catholic and Liberty, who went 2-7 and 1-9 respectively last year, are capable of turnarounds. Stroudsburg, a playoff regular for many years, is looking to bounce back as is Easton.
Emmaus and Whitehall are looking for redemption after district title-game losses and Dieruff feels it has the potential to make the district tournament for the first time in 25 years.
Entering opening night, all 18 are unbeaten and upbeat. That will quickly change and new storylines will develop as the EPC begins its seventh season under its current configuration.
Here’s a team-by-team look:
Coach: Mel Thomas (second season).
2021: 1-9, 1-7 EPC North.
Impact players: Sr. RB-QB Clarence Watkins; Jr. WR-DB Zyier Palmer; Sr. OL-DL Nasir Cuadrado; Jr. OL-DL Deshawn Shaw; Sr. OL-DL Victor Mora; Austin Snyder; Sr. OL-DL Odyseey Rivera; Sr. OL-DL Jharon Johnson.
Biggest question: Can the Canaries get the community and administrative support Thomas would like to see them get as Allen has struggles that few other programs in the Lehigh Valley have?
Outlook: Thomas said his players are working hard and are trying to build a culture. Watkins is a dynamic offensive player who had a 273-yard rushing performance last year against Pocono Mountain West and just missed a 1,000-yard rushing season. Can Watkins get help from others, especially his offensive line?
Coach: Dave Lutte (fourth season, 6-18).
2021: 3-6, 3-4 EPC North.
Impact players: Jr. WR-LB Jonas Robles; Jr. RB-DB Mekhi Ashby; Sr. OL-DL Xion Chapman; Sr. OL-DL Christopher Badillo; Sr. QB Jordey Guzman; Sr. WR Darius Rivera; Sr. WR-DE Noah Ozorio.
Biggest question: Can the Huskies develop depth on the offensive line?
Outlook: Dieruff made strides in the offseason and entered preseason camp in solid shape. The goal is to avoid the off-the-field distractions that plagued the program in 2021. The Huskies have some talent, but still have obstacles to overcome including having to get on a bus to get to practice every day.
Coach: Ricardo Altreche (third season, 0-15).
2021: 0-10, 0-8 EPC North,
Impact players: Jr. QB-S-OLB Romeo Carmen-King; Jr. RB-DE Nathanael Clay; Sr. RB-OLB Eyden Perez; Sr. OL-DL Shok Bobbitt; Jr. DL Matthew Smith; So. RB-LB Zachary Deresky-Martinez; Sr. MLB Yorch Urbaez; Jr. RB-DE Kenyan Jones; So. OL-DL Diego Moran; Sr. WR-DB Michael Watts.
Biggest question: Can the Timberwolves break through and get their first win since a 28-21 win over Pleasant Valley in 2019? Since then North has lost 18 straight.
Outlook: Altreche has a roster of 50 players and many freshmen are entering the program, which is good news for the Timberwolves considering they had so few kids just a few years ago. The next step toward respectability is to have some success and be more competitive in games after being outscored 610-60 last season.
Coach: Matt Walters (fourth season, 22-7).
2021: 9-4, 7-1 EPC North. Beat Wyoming Valley West 52-26 and Whitehall 47-41 in the District 11 5A tournament, lost to Erie Cathedral Prep 69-20 in the PIAA tourney.
Impact players: Sr. OT-DT Jamal Watts Sr. WR-LB Jakob Patrick Sr. WR Shane Bulay; Sr. WR Marcus McNeill; Jr. WR-DB Nekhi Spencer; Sr. QB Colby Mitchell; Sr. RB Blaise Jones; So. RB-DB Nate Gray; So. WR-DB Xzavier Pusateri.
Biggest question: Can the Cavaliers replace 10 offensive starters and eight defensive starters?
Outlook: The Cavaliers begin the season dealing with the loss of Matt Haines, who had been part of the program and was set to move to a southern state when he was killed in a car accident. The team has been very supportive of the Haines family and has dedicated the season to them. Walters has built a program that doesn’t need to rebuild even after numerous key losses. He will rely on many sophomores who went 8-1 on the freshmen team last year. Walters said his 30th birthday is Nov. 11, which is the night of the District 11 5A and it’s obvious how he’d like to celebrate — with another gold medal presentation.
Coach: John Toman (second season at Northampton; 120-55 including 14 seasons at Southern Lehigh).
2021: 12-1, 8-0 EPC North. Beat Pleasant Valley 21-7, lost to Freedom 21-9 in District 11 6A tournament.
Impact players: Sr. OT-DT Christian Bundra; Sr. OL-DL Luke Baker; Jr. TE-OL Colby Reph; Sr. WR-DB Jaelen Richardson; Jr. OL Jacob Biery; Jr. RB Caden Henritzy; Jr. WR-DB Tristen Pinnock; Sr. FB-LB Carson Czarnecki; Jr. LB AJ Slivka; Sr. FB-LB Brett Rickert.
Biggest question: Who is going to replace Cooper King at quarterback? Slivka and senior Antonino Russo were the leading candidates in the early stages of preseason camp.
Outlook: It will be difficult for the Konkrete Kids to repeat their success of a year ago when they set a school record with an 11-0 start and won the program’s first District 11 playoff game. But enough pieces are in place for Northampton to contend for a third straight EPC North title and make a run in the District 11 6A tournament.
Coach: Blaec Saeger (fourth season, 7-18).
2021: 5-5, 5-3 EPC North. Lost to Northampton 2-17 in the District 11 6A tournament.
Impact players: Sr. RB-DB Jarod Moore; Sr. RB-LB Fela Olaniyan; Sr. OL-LB Michael Barret; Sr. RB-LB Jackson Tyner; Sr. OL-DL James Baruzza.
Biggest question: Can the Bears make a district playoff appearance for a third straight year?
Outlook: The Bears return six starters on both sides of the ball, but have to replace several key players such as Rob Papaleo, Ryan Blass and Jacob Gethen. If the younger players step up, PV is capable of returning to the postseason and this time it will be at the 5A level.
Coach: Dan Burns (third season, 3-12).
2021: 2-7, 2-5 EPC North.
Impact players: Sr. TE-DE D.J. Kelley; Jr. WR-DB Rasu Waring-Poindexter; Sr. C-DE Owen Heller; Sr. RB-DB Frederick Owusu; Sr. QB Kevin Zheng.
Biggest question: Can the Cardinals develop a “next play” mentality and have the ability to refocus after something goes wrong?
Outlook: East has some depth at some spots like the skill positions on offense and the defensive line. The goal is to get better each day and to continue an upward trend for the program and possibly break through in the district’s 5A classification.
Coach: Jim McCarroll (21st season, 74-133).
2021: 6-5, 6-2 EPC North. Lost to Parkland 42-13 in the District 11 6A tournament.
Impact players: Sr. OL Blaise McCarroll; Sr. WR-RB Luke DeRiggi; Sr. RB-QB-TE Matt Marinovich; Sr. OL Malachi Walters; Jr. OL Brandon Stiehler; Jr. WR Jah McNeil; Jr. WR Brandon Evans; Jr. WR Will Mecca; Jr. WR Tyrese Hester-Bey; Sr. QB Ian McHugh; Jr. QB Ryder Bray.
Biggest question: Can the Panthers weather a tough early schedule that has them traveling to Northampton and Bethlehem Catholic in the first two weeks?
Outlook: Pocono Mountain West has begun a regular in the District 11 tournament but it has always been tough for the Panthers in Class 6A. Now they fit into the 5A classification and they have a chance to not only make the postseason but have some success in it.
Coach: Jim Miller (10th season, 64-30).
2021: 4-6, 3-5 EPC North.
Impact players: Jr. WR-DB Kevin Polonia; Jr. WR-CB Jelonie Rivera; Sr. MLB Geo Silva; Sr. OT-DT Kevron Danso; Sr. OL-DL Anthony Witherspoon; Sr. C Zach DeFalco; Sr. Sr. WR Jaiden Bermudez; Sr. RB Andre Reames, Jr.; Sr. QB Aiden Herman.
Biggest question: Reames figures to be one of the best running backs in District 11, but will the Mounties be balanced enough to prevent teams from loading up the box to stop him?
Outlook: Stroudsburg’s 4-6 mark last year was its first losing season under Miller and the program’s first non-winning season since 2010. The Mounties have great numbers and a lot of enthusiasm to get back on track. Plus, Reames will be one of the most dynamic players in the league.
Coach: Kyle Haas (second season; went 19-10 in three years at Northampton; also went 11-4 as interim coach at Becahi in 2016).
2021: 2-7, 1-6 EPC South.
Impact players: Sr. RB-DB Rahmel Terry; Sr. WR-DB Eric Wert; Sr. WR-DB Jaiden Ellis-Lahey; Sr. FB-LB Izzy Ramos-Dobbins; Sr. OL-DL Eli Thompson; Sr. RB-LB Zyaire Morris; Sr. WR-DB Jamel Clements; Sr. OG-NG Mekhi George; Sr OT-NG Mark Mulhurn; Jr. OT-DE Sam Ayache; Sr. C-DE Nicco Spezza; Jr. LB Robert Williams; Sr. WR-DB Troy Miller; Sr. WR-DB Will Aviles; Sr. QB Luke Thomas; Jr. QB Auggie Warke.
Biggest question: Who will win the quarterback battle between Thomas and Warke and can either one provide the same production Jared Richardson provided the last several years?
Outlook: It was an uncharacteristic non-playoff season for the Golden Hawks last year, but Haas said things have improved drastically in all areas. Becahi has plenty of talent, especially on offense, and needs to put complete games together. If they find consistency, expect them to compete for a District 11 4A title.
Coach: Tim McGorry (fourth season, 23-11).
2021: 9-4, 5-3 EPC South. Beat Pottsville 35-21 and Northwestern Lehigh 21-14 in District 11 4A tournament, lost to Jersey Shore 20-7 in state playoffs.
Impact players: Sr. OL Mitchell Miller; Jr. OL Nick Balisage; Sr. TE-LB Ethan Hosak; Sr. QB Tamlin Ferguson; Jr. WR-DB Armonie Torres; Sr. WR-LB Griffin Patridge; Sr WR Alistair Stewart-Smith; So. WR Jareel Calhoun; Sr. RB-DB Travis Foster; Sr. RB-LB Caiden Schaffer; So. DL Braheem Battles; Sr. DL Rajan Stevens; Sr. LB Matt Keyes; Jr. DB Nathan Schultz; Jr. DB Nasir Mclean.
Biggest question: Playmakers abound on offense, but the development of the offensive line and filling the hole created by the graduation of Lavon Johnson will be keys.
Outlook: No other team returns 10 players on both offense and defense, so there’s plenty of enthusiasm with the Vikings. But ACCHS needs to find consistency in the running game and on offense overall. The team scored 17 points or less seven times last season, but thrived thanks to a defense that held seven foes to seven points or less.
Coach: Jeff Braido (sixth season, 34-22).
2021: 6-4, 3-3 EPC South. Lost to Freedom 44-14 in District 11 6A tournament.
Impact players: Sr. WR-DB JuJu Fears; Sr. RB-LB Aidan Hutchison; Sr. WR-DB J’Vier Johnson; Sr. OL-DL Anthony Embardino; Sr. OL-DL Sean Wilson; Sr. OL-DL Odin Ferency; Sr. TE-DE Javon Frutchey; Sr. K-P Austin Martellucci; Sr. QB Dylan Reed.
Biggest question: The Red Rovers have lots of talented pieces and a new offensive coordinator, but will need to find ways to replace three-year starter at quarterback Cole Transue and a premier playmaker in Marcus Williams.
Outlook: Braido was upbeat about the season and is excited about opening the season against Parkland which will give the team a great early gauge. Consistency is the key to the season. Last year, the Red Rovers played Parkland tough and beat Emmaus and Allentown Central Catholic, but lost twice to Freedom.
Coach: Harold Fairclough (seventh season, 46-19; 13th season overall, 95-47).
2021: 9-4, 5-3 EPC South. Beat Nazareth 20-19 and Parkland 21-14 and lost to Freedom 28-14 in District 11 6A tournament.
Impact players: Sr. QB Jake Fotta; Jr. QB-LB Josiah Williams; Sr. WR Chase Fotta; Sr. RB Tylik Jarvis; Sr. WR Dylan Darville; Jr. OG-DT Ben Mercado; OT-DE Mario Landino; Sr. WR-DB Ryan DeJohn.
Biggest question: While much of the preseason focus will be on the quarterback positions where Jake Fotta returns after an ACL injury and his 2021 replacement Josiah Williams is also back, bigger questions are on defense where Jared Groller led a unit that allowed just 11.3 points per game last year.
Outlook: It figures to be another good season for the Green Hornets, who made a great postseason run last year with road wins at Nazareth and Parkland. Theyhave several offensive weapons returning, but have lots of key personnel to replace. Much will be learned by how well Emmaus fares at Freedom in Week 1.
Coach: Jason Roeder (18th season, 120-72).
2021: 11-3, 6-2 EPC South. Beat Easton 44-14, beat Northampton 21-9, beat Emmaus 28-14 in District 11 6A tournament; lost to St. Joe’s Prep 24-21 in PIAA tournament.
Impact players: Jr. OL John Audette; Sr. DE Nick Ellis; Sr. RB-DB Jalen Fletcher; Sr. OL-LB Ryan Hoffman; Sr. WR Owen Johnson; Sr. TE-LB Kyle Johnson; Sr. OL Collin Lutz; Sr. QB Ethan Neidig; Sr. DL Rashawn Nicholas; Sr. TE-LB John Roeder; Sr. WR-DB Alexie Sangster; Sr. DB Vinnie Slepetz; Sr. WR-DB Connor Stofanak; Jr. OL-LB Brayden Curry; Jr. TE-LB Sam Neuffer; Jr. RB Noah Pierre.
Biggest question: Roeder said the Patriots have plenty of talent, but managing its depth will be one of its biggest challenges.
Outlook: Neidig, who played quarterback in 2020, returns to the position after the graduation of Brian Taylor and will give the Patriots plenty of athleticism. He has plenty of weapons around him and while the team will miss the leadership it got from Braelin Moore, Juan Feliciano, and others last season, this figures to be one of the area’s best teams and a title contender again.
Coach: Shawn Daignault (second season).
2021: 1-9, 0-8 EPC South.
Impact players: Sr. WR-DB Karim Brice; Sr. WR-LB Nico Sciarra; Sr. OL-DL Jordan Bartholomew; Sr. OL-DL Jelani Leslie; Sr. QB Tommy Mason; Sr. TE Kole Zellner; Sr. LB Siddiq Small.
Biggest question: Can the Hurricanes find a way to win close games after losing six games by 12 points or less in 2021?
Outlook: Enthusiam is in large supply with the Hurricanes, who are much more comfortable in their second year with Daignault who enjoys working with his kids. There are talented pieces, but it’s a matter of consistency and putting things together for 48 minutes while avoiding the mistakes that spoiled numerous good efforts last year.
Coach: Tom Falzone (ninth season, 50-37; 13th overall, 97-55).
2021: 7-4, 5-3 EPC South. Lost to Emmaus 20-19 in District 11 6A tournament.
Impact players: Sr. QB-DB Sonny Sasso; Jr. WR-DB Mason Kuehner; Sr. WR-DB Nolan Lobb; Sr. LB Collin Wells; Sr. K Chris Bugbee; Sr. WR Jack Dugdale; Sr. OL-DL Sean Kinney; Jr. OL-LB Dominic Pilla; Jr. OL Brady Pidgeon.
Biggest question: While the offense figures to be as explosive as any team in local football, the defense has to shore up some things after giving up 35 points or more to Emmaus, Parkland, Bethlehem Catholic, and Freedom last season.
Outlook: Falzone typically likes to downplay his team’s chances, but there’s no downplaying an offense that has experienced weapons at every turn. Sasso, Kuehner, Lobb, and Co. will put up points and with Sasso and Kinney winning state wrestling championships last winter, Nazareth has athletes who know how to win. Fueled by a disappointing district loss last year, the Blue Eagles seem primed for a big season.
Coach: Tim Moncman (seventh season, 53-16, 17th overall, 141-52).
2021: 9-2, 7-1 EPC South. Beat Pocono Mountain West 42-13, lost to Emmaus 21-14 in District 11 6A tournament.
Impact players: Jr. RB-WR Trey Tremba; Sr. OT-DE Nate Kemmerer; Sr. FB-LB Victor Pagan; Sr. WR-DB Nakhi Bullock; Sr. WR Jack Harrison; Jr. WR-DB Jendel Sanchez; Sr. OL Kaleb Beers; Sr. DB Mason Hollis; Sr. K-P Gryffin Mitstifer; Jr. QB Luke Spang.
Biggest question: The Trojans are inexperienced up front on both sides of the ball and will need unproven players to develop and mesh quickly.
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Outlook: After winning six District 11 titles in a row at the highest level from 2012-17, the Trojans have gone four seasons without district gold. This is a group capable of snapping the drought with lots of skill-position talent and experience. It’s no wonder they won a 7-on-7 shootout this summer. Good test right away against Easton.
Coach: Matt Senneca (fourth season, 19-20).
2021: 4-7, 2-5 EPC South. Beat Southern Lehigh 43-14, lost to East Stroudsburg South 47-41 in District 11 5A tournament.
Impact players: Jr. QB Trey Dogmanits, Sr. RB Nigel Linton; Sr. OL Carter Hudak; Jr. WR Jack Kocher; Sr. OL Jack Jacobus; Sr. FB-LB Chandler Romaine; Sr. WR-CB Aiden Parvel; Jr. WR Braden Bashore; Jr. WR Sebastian Orochena.
Biggest question: A promising season was shelved by injuries last year, so the big goal is for Whitehall to stay healthy.
Outlook: The Zephyrs figure to be a work-in-progress with lots of new pieces in place. Dogmanits getting experience at QB last year will be a help. The team was devastated by its heartbreaking loss in the District 11 5A finals but has used that disappointment as motivation into this season.
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