Young Hopewell team looks to gain traction

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Saturday, August 14, 2021 | 6:01 AM


Hopewell’s coaching staff is entering its third season with the program, and head coach Matt Weiss said it seems like each year they’ve had a young team.

That’s certainly true this season, with just four seniors on the roster.

But the team does return some experience, which he hopes will benefit the Vikings as the younger players develop and get accustomed to varsity football.

“We’re going to have a lot of freshmen and sophomores playing,” Weiss said. “There’s a lot of first-year football players on our roster too. It’s been a true pleasure to coach these guys. They believe in the culture. They are extremely coachable kids. Everything we throw at them, they are up to the task.”

The senior group includes Connor Antoszeski (RB/LB), Spencer Heiland (TE/LB), Adam Ware (OL/DL) and Caleb McCoy (OL/DL). They have been a big part of the team’s offseason program and helping to get the underclassmen up to speed since workouts began in March.

“We navigated with small group workouts, then once things started easing up (with covid), we got back to full team workouts,” Weiss said. “It was the perfect segue to our summer.”

Hopewell entered training camp with 34 players, including six returning starters on offense and seven on defense.

Sophomore quarterback Kaden Sarver will be tasked with leading the offense. He saw limited action as a backup last season, when he completed 14 of 34 passes for 289 yards and three touchdowns.

“His development has been typical for a sophomore,” Weiss said. “Going through last season as a backup and sitting down in the offseason and learning a lot, his progression has been good. Kaden is a kid who is going to continue to mature throughout the season.

“It’s not easy to get thrown in there as a sophomore, but he’s up for the task. He’s pretty mature in that he’s willing to sit down, put in the work. He wants to learn how to watch tape, break it down.”

Sarver will have some reliable weapons at the skill positions, including Antoszeski at running back and junior wide receivers Cameron Fedorka and Matt Essay. Junior Lawrence Kasanzale (6-foot-4, 250 pounds) also will be a key factor at tight end, and junior Neil O’Connor will get carries in the backfield.

“These guys are core guys,” Weiss said. “They’ve been with us the past couple years. They’re prime examples of our culture. They work hard, bust their tails. They are the guys we’ll lean on for leadership.”

McCoy (6-6, 315) and juniors Greg Barlion (6-4, 245) and Rocco Vespaziani (6-2, 235) return to anchor the offensive line. And Kasanzale will join Barlion and McCoy as impact players on the defensive line.

“We’re really high on our offensive and defensive lines,” Weiss said. “We feel that will be the rock for our team this year.”

O’Connor and Antoszeski will man linebacker posts, and Fedorka, Essay and sophomore Isaiah Pisano return in the secondary.

“We’re going to look for their leadership and playing experience from last season to help bolster the secondary,” Weiss said.

Weiss also expects contributions from sophomore wide receiver/defensive back Hayden Tenerovich.

The Vikings will be without a couple of key weapons from last season, according to Weiss. Quarterback Micah Kimbrough, who led the team in rushing and passing, decided not to play football this fall. In addition, leading receiver Jamar Jeter transferred to Aliquippa.

They also will try and make up for the graduation loss of all-conference running back Tanner Dobbins (61-407 yards, 3 TDs) and all-conference lineman Jacob Forrest, along with lineman Cole Carpenter.

“I want us to be a competitive football team and I want us to be disciplined,” Weiss said, citing several instances of undisciplined play that cost the Vikings games a year ago. “I’m looking for our guys to be extremely competitive.”

Hopewell will again be tested in the Class 3A Northwestern Six Conference, which features defending PIAA champion Central Valley.

“It’s a very competitive conference,” Weiss said. “Obviously, Central Valley has some respect being the defending state champion. They’re favored to win the conference, but after that, it’s up for grabs. There’s a lot of good teams in our conference.”

He also is looking forward to a challenging nonconference slate that includes games against North Catholic and Class 4A teams Montour, Blackhawk, Beaver and Chartiers Valley.

“I embrace the tough schedule,” Weiss said. “We can learn a lot about ourselves. We’re looking forward to our nonconference games. We want to play quality football teams.”

Hopewell

Coach: Matt Weiss

2020 record: 2-5, 2-3 in Class 3A Northwestern Six Conference

All-time record: 364-388-25

SCHEDULE

Date, Opponent, Time

8.27, North Catholic, 7

9.3, at Blackhawk, 7

9.10, Beaver, 7

9.17, Montour, 7

9.24, at Chartiers Valley, 7

10.1, Ambridge*, 7

10.8, at Quaker Valley*, 7

10.15, at Avonworth*, 7

10.22, Keystone Oaks*, 7

10.29, at Central Valley*, 7

*Conference game

STATISTICAL LEADERS

Passing: Micah Kimbrough

40-108, 500 yards, 4 TDs

Receiving: Jamar Jeter#

26-402, 4 TDs

Rushing: Kimbrough

83-492, 9 TDs

#Transferred to Aliquippa

FAST FACTS

• Coach Matt Weiss, a Rochester grad, enters his third season at Hopewell and has compiled a record of 4-13.

• In addition to his role as a tight end and defensive end, Kasanzale will be the team’s kicker. He started out as a soccer player but tried football and fell in love with the culture, Weiss said. He put on 25 pounds of muscle and will now be a starter on offense and defense.

• Hopewell’s stadium is named after Vikings great Tony Dorsett, who won the Heisman Trophy after leading Pitt to a national title in 1976. The Pro and College Football Hall of Fame running back then went on have a decorated career with the Cowboys (11 seasons) and Broncos (one season), rushing for 12,739 yards and 77 touchdowns.

Bill Hartlep is the sports editor of the Tribune-Review. You can contact Bill at bhartlep@triblive.com or via Twitter @BHartlep_Trib.

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