2017 Team Preview – Southern Columbia (4)
If any coaching staff in the state knows how to manage the pressure of high expectations, the Southern Columbia staff would top the list. High expectations come with success, and the Tigers have been the leader in that category for three decades. The black & gold have set the standard by winning more games than any other team in the state since 1990. “It is important for the players to realize right away that they haven’t earned anything yet. Until you prove it on the field, the talk doesn’t mean anything,” said head coach Jim Roth early in the offseason. The veteran coach enters 2017 with 396 wins in his illustrious career. This season he will look to become just the third coach ever in Pennsylvania to reach the 400-win plateau. Below is a list of what to expect in 2017 out of SoCo…
Team Name: Southern Columbia Tigers
Jim Roth (33rd year at SCA)
Record: 396-63 (never had a losing season)
7 State Championships (PIAA Record)
15 Eastern Championships (PIAA Record)
Andy Mills (38 years)
Al Cihocki (37 years)
John Marks (24 years)
Mike Johnston (22 years)
Don Traugh (16 years)
Roger Nunkester (5 years)
Conference: Pennsylvania Heartland Athletic Conference
2016 Record: 15-1 (PIAA Class AA State Finalist)
Colors: Black & Vegas Gold
Stadium: Tiger Stadium (Jim Roth Field)
Every single Southern Columbia football game can be listened to live on internet radio at www.blackdiamondsports.net. The Tigers will also be on local radio at either 99.7 FM or 95.3 FM throughout the season. Look for Twitter posts on game night after each score and quarter and throughout the week by following @BlackDiamondSN. On Saturday mornings, there will be a weekly article on this website recapping every Tiger game written by myself (Dave Fegley and @dfegs9 on Twitter).
Hunter Thomas: 2x all-state selection at running back (5th on school’s all-time rushing list)
Cam Young: 2x all-state selection at defensive back (school’s all-time interception leader)
Offensive Starters Returning: (8)
QB Stone Hollenbach (Jr)
RB Gaige Garcia (So)
WR Julian Fleming (So)
OL Andrew Bell (Sr)
OL Connor Fulmer (Sr)
OL Troy Donlan (Jr)
OL Oak Six (Jr)
OL John Stabinski (Jr)
Defensive Starters Returning: (5)
DL Tyler Bendas (Sr)
DL Cavern Gosciminski (Sr)
DL Cole Schankweiler (So)
LB Anthony Scicchitano (Sr)
LB Cal Haladay (So)
Blake Day: The senior will look to fill the shoes of Teagan Wilk who transferred to Berwick in the offseason. Day missed last season due to an injury suffered in the season opener.
Brett Szuler: According to some of the Tiger coaches, this first year player has been a pleasant surprise so far in the summer. The senior will have a shot at starting at corner and receiver.
After one of the top offensive performances by a Tiger team ever last season, the offense comes back looking to try and put up similar statistics. Obviously the loss of Hunter Thomas leaves Southern Columbia with a void of nearly 4,000 career rushing yards, but he wasn’t the only weapon the Tigers had. The dynamic duo of Julian Fleming and Gaige Garcia will return for their sophomore campaigns after putting up staggering numbers a year ago. Garcia broke the state freshman rushing record by totaling 1,938 yards which overtook former Tiger Jerry Marks who held the record for over three decades. “With Hunter Thomas graduating, we are all going to need to step up. I have some added motivation coming into this year after having to watch the state championship game from the sideline last year for the last game,” said Garcia who missed the state final last year with a broken foot suffered the week before.
The quarterback, Stone Hollenbach, also returns for his junior season. This is the first full offseason that he has been a part of at Southern Columbia. “Having a full year under my belt has given me a lot more confidence than I had at this point last year. I’m a lot more comfortable with my receivers and it should be an exciting year after what we achieved last season,” said the quarterback who passed for a school record 2,156 yards in 2016. His top target will once again be Fleming who averaged an astounding 26.6 yards per catch and scored 13 times last year through the air.
The backfield will most likely consist of senior Tom Manley opposite of Garcia, and senior Jeff Cox will be the fullback. A pair of sophomores, Ty Roadarmel and Nate Crowl, will also see time in the backfield as contributors. Both Manley and Cox were starters on defense a year ago. Joining Fleming as a second option as a receiving threat will be either Preston Zachman, Blake Day, or Brett Szuler.
The entire offensive line returns this year. A season ago, the only retuning starting lineman was Andrew Bell. “With all of us returning and with how hard the unit has worked in the offseason, we definitely expect to do big things. We have a year under our belts of learning how to communicate with each other pre-snap and that will be important coming into the start of this year,” said Connor Fulmer. The tackles will be Fulmer and Oak Six, the guards will be Bell and John Stabinski, and Troy Donlan will return at center. Anthony Scicchitano will be the primary tight end this year as well as starting on defense. “I have a lot of confidence in my stamina. With how hard we train in the offseason, I have the mentality that I won’t ever get tired on the football field,” said Scicchitano who may be on the field more than any other player this year.
Elijah Hoffman, a senior soccer player, returns as the team’s kicker. He will also handle the punting duties this season for the first time. Look for multiple players to be available in the return game. Fleming will be the top threat and Garcia is also a returner. The two sophomores were both all-state selections in their rookie seasons, Fleming at receiver and Garcia at running back.
Only one starter returned coming into last season, so SCA will certainly be more experienced from the beginning this year. Although they technically only return five starters, the Tigers have others that gained valuable experience throughout the course of last season. Tyler Bendas returns as the team leader in sacks from a season ago with five, but he feels that is one area the Tigers can improve on. “With having to replace our entire secondary, it’s going to be important for our d-line to get lots of pressure on the quarterbacks. We need to convert and finish more on bringing them down so that they don’t have the opportunity to pass on us,” Bendas said. AJ Goodlunas will start at the other defensive end spot after missing the last two seasons with injuries. The defensive tackles will rotate between Cavern Gosciminski, Cole Schankweiler, Troy Donlan, & Andrew Bell. Bell, who didn’t start on defense until the playoffs, earned an all-state selection last year on the defensive line.
The core of the Tiger defense lies in the middle. Cal Haladay, an all-stater last year, and Scicchitano will return as the two leading tacklers from last season. “Both of our inside linebackers return after outstanding seasons in 2016 and that is key,” said Roth. The outside linebackers appear to be sophomores Max Tillett and Preston Zachman. Tillett was very effective last year on special teams by totaling over 50 tackles.
The secondary has the potential of looking like a revolving door until players prove their stay. The players in the mix are Julian Fleming, Andrew Haupt, Tristan Heim, and Brett Szuler for the two cornerback spots. Blake Day and Cade Linn are fighting for the starting safety spot. Fleming saw the most action out of anyone in the secondary last season after playing a significant amount of time in the postseason. “Knowing the assignments and playing with confidence is going to be the key. You can’t go out there lacking confidence on the football field. We have guys that are certainly capable of getting the job done,” said Roth after a summer workout regarding the secondary.
51: The Tigers regular season winning streak currently sits at 51 games dating back to 2011 which is the longest streak that the program has ever had. Strath Haven holds the state record of 78 consecutive regular season victories which they set back in 2004.
200: The amount of tackles Cal Haladay and Anthony Scicchitano are looking to total this season for their careers. Haladay set the single-season school record last year as a freshman with 151, and Scicchitano has 107 for his career. If they have high production like last season, these two would be the 20th and 21st to reach this milestone at Southern.
Games to Watch:
Mount Carmel (Week 3): If this year is anything like last year’s first half, District IV’s most intriguing rivalry will write another story for the history books. The Tigers have won the last five meetings, most in convincing fashion, but last year the Red Tornado offense hung right with the Tigers in the first half with the score being 28-28. SCA would go on to win convincingly 63-34.
Selinsgrove (Week 10): If there is one big question mark for the Tigers, it will come in the secondary. Selinsgrove will arguably have the top passing attack in the district again this year with their school’s all-time passing leader returning. This game also always provides a great test for each squad before entering the playoffs.
Players to Watch:
Julian Fleming: If anyone was wondering if Fleming’s breakout freshman season was a fluke, just look at the offers that the three-sport star athlete has received. “I always put pressure on myself to do better, so I’m used to having pressure. Now I just have to realize that with the publicity I’m going to have a target on my back, but I’m ready for the challenge of competing,” said Fleming. After just one year of high school football, the sophomore has shown enough skills on the football field to receive eight scholarship offers already including Penn State, Michigan, & West Virginia. He had 956 receiving yards last season, and he also had three returns for touchdowns on top of his receiving success.
Jeffrey Cox: It wasn’t too long ago when Jeffrey Cox was in a serious ATV accident, suffering major injuries, back in middle school. Now the senior to be, with scars as reminders of how lucky he is, will be counted on to play the most coveted position in the Tiger’s Wing-T offense. “I am really excited for the opportunity to start at fullback. I was a running back every year until last year when they moved me to fullback. I just want to live up to the expectations of the position,” he said. He will be in the backfield for his senior season after starting at defensive end a year ago.
Elijah Hoffman: Sometimes football fans take for granted having consistent kickers. At the high school level, having a kicker that can be counted on to convert is a blessing. “My goals for kicking this year are to be consistent with every kick. I want to make all of my field goals again this year and kick more touchbacks. The whole team has been working hard so the main goal is to win a state championship this year and every point on the board matters,” said Hoffman who is receiving interest from FCS schools. Last year, he was just five points off of the state record for kicking points and he would like to break that this year. He also was selected this year as a MaxPreps Preseason Small School 2nd Team All-American.
If you are picking a preseason favorite to win a state title, the Tigers would probably be the safest bet. Wilmington seems to be the deepest team in the other half of the state after falling to eventual state champion Steel Valley last year in the western final. There will be a lot of competition in the east though that the Tigers will need to get through if they want to make it to their record 16th state title game appearance.
A first ever postseason matchup between the Tigers and Red Tornadoes of Mount Carmel Area could turn out to be the District IV AA final with the Tigers being the favorite. After that, who will turn out to be the biggest surprise this year in the east during the state playoffs? Ligonier Valley played that role last year with SCA narrowly escaping with a victory. Will it be another private school that has a talented recruiting class coming in or will it be one of the traditional favorites to meet SoCo in the state playoffs to try and advance to Chocolate Town, USA? Whatever happens, it won’t be long until we find out because the gridiron season is about to get underway!
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