Williamsport wide receiver Jared Fagnano was impressive last season.Jonathan J. Juka/for the times leader
Sensing some of weariness during a scrimmage at Shamokin, Williamsport coach Tom Gravish had his team line up and do sprints afterward.
And no one complained.
It’s that type of attitude that the third-year coach hopes to instill in the program, which was feared when it joined the Wyoming Valley Conference in 1994 but has fallen on hard times this decade.
“The first year we had to work on all the discipline issues,” Gravish said. “Maybe some of the new ideas we brought in weren’t accepted as much. These guys have bought in.”
The Millionaires finished 2-8 in 2008 and could have been better if not for blowing a lead late in an 18-14 loss to Stroudsburg and failing to convert a two-point try in a 28-27 setback to Coughlin.
“I think some our guys have learned from those situations,” Gravish said. “That’s what we’ve been trying emphasize in the weight room. It’s a new year; you have to work harder to make those plays when it counts.”
Williamsport has had some of the most feared skill athletes annually in the WVC. The dilemma has been in the trenches where the Millionaires haven’t matched up well.
Gravish, though, thinks that could change and believes the O-line could be a strength with center Matt Lewis, guard Matt Shipman and tackle Scott Bailey back. The unit will be buoyed by the return of tight end Thomas Burk, who sidelined by injury early last season.
Junior Nahshon Braggs, a two-year starter, returns at tailback and is a breakaway threat. Versatile Joe Nolan will also see time in the backfield.
The two quarterbacks – Marquise Keiser and Drae Lewis – combined to throw only six passes last season, but both have shown promise. Keiser is more of the passer, while Lewis is the runner and could see action at tailback.
Junior Jared Fagnano came on strongly at the end of last season, making 19 catches in the final five games. He’ll be joined in the receiving corps by 6-foot-3 Blake Adams and 6-1 Sam Mason.
Senior kicker Jordan Fredo is one of the most reliable in the WVC.
The Millionaires used so many combinations last year that Gravish estimates 15 returners started at some point in 2008.
The first repairs need to be made to the run defense, which allowed 350 or more yards three times including 432 to Hazleton Area and 449 to Tunkhannock.
Birk’s return to full strength should help.
“He is a emotional leader and player,” Gravish said. “He is a pretty special kid offensively and at defensive tackle.”
Lewis had 14 sacks last year as a defensive end. Bailey is back at a tackle spot.
Perry Rogers is the most experienced linebacker, but the rest of the group is high on promise but low on playing time.
“They have the potential to be good players,” Gravish said, “and we’ll have more depth at that position.”
The secondary is the defense’s deepest position, with eight players Gravish feels comfortable playing. The unit is essentially the offensive skill guys along with senior Cyrek Jackson tossed in.
Six opponents failed to pass for more than 100 yards in 2008, but that may have been more of a product of the run defense’s ineffectiveness.
The Millionaires are 13-47 over the last six seasons despite having some of the most explosive skill players in the WVC.
The problems have seemed to be up front and if they can correct them a .500 season isn’t out of reach.