Youthful Elizabeth Forward aims to reload after 8-2 season

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Thursday, August 22, 2019 | 8:01 AM


After three straight winning seasons, a pair of playoff appearances and back-to-back conference championships, Mike Collodi acknowledges the upcoming football season will be different than in years past at Elizabeth Forward.

Entering the season, the fifth-year coach has 48 players on his roster, a number much larger than recent past; however, only six of those players are seniors.

Collodi, who has relied on veteran leaders to help bring prominence back to the program, has a much younger squad to work with this season. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

It simply signifies the beginning of a new era in Elizabeth Forward football.

“I don’t want to be cliche and say it’s a rebuilding year. We’re just going to reload,” said Collodi, who led the Warriors to an 8-2 overall record and a 7-1 mark in Big East Conference play last season.

“We’ve worked as hard as we always do in the offseason and we are young, but I just look at it as we’re going to reload, keep winning and we’re not going to use youth as a factor in us not winning. These kids played a lot last year in some big wins and some blowouts, so Friday nights shouldn’t be new to them.”

In addition to gaining valuable experience last season, especially in lopsided wins over Burrell, Mt. Pleasant, Uniontown and Yough, the younger members of Collodi’s bunch have had the opportunity to learn from some talented veterans.

Players such as Zach Benedek, Nathan Homa, Nathan Alberts and AJ Ackerman, all of whom graduated in May, helped change the culture of the program along with the likes of alumni Gavin Martik and Tyler Ocilka, a pair of 2018 graduates.

“They were the ones who set the groundwork for what we expect,” Collodi said. “Our current guys are just following along. They learned from the best and that’s great.”

Benedek, a three-year starter who is playing at St. Francis (Pa.), leaves a big void. He was a first-team all-conference selection during his junior and senior seasons.

Junior Nico Mrvos will be tasked with replacing Benedek at quarterback. Mrvos spent time at wide receiver last season and played a few snaps at quarterback as well.

“He’s extremely athletic and we’re going to utilize his athletic ability,” Collodi said. “It is a new era with Nico, but there is no doubt in my mind he is going to be able to handle it and do extremely well, too.”

In years past, the Warriors have used a committee of running backs.

That won’t change this season as senior Nick Hunnel, junior Evan Lewis and sophomore Davontay Brownfield are among the talented ground options EF has in its arsenal.

“We have three guys that are very capable of running the ball,” Collodi said. “They all bring something different to the table and bring different dynamics to the game, so no one can really focus on one person.”

One of EF’s biggest receiving threats will likely be tight end Chase Whatton, a 6-foot-3 junior who will provide a big target for Mrvos.

Among the other receivers expected to make an impact are senior Jacob Prah, who returns as a starter, newcomer Jason McClellan, a transfer from Beth-Center, and Dakota Buchina.

“We have a host of receivers who are able to run and catch,” Collodi said. “That definitely takes the pressure off Nico. We did a ton of seven-on-sevens this summer and multiple targets were catching touchdowns. It’s a good problem to have.”

The Warriors return two starters on their offensive line in seniors Nate Sullivan and Ethan Cain. Joining them up front will be classmate Mitchell Zombek, who was hindered by an injury as a sophomore and missed all of last season following knee surgery.

Rounding out the starting offensive line will be sophomore Nick Murphy and junior Jared Prah.

As they have in years past, most players will play both offense and defense for Collodi.

Sullivan returns to his starting spot at outside linebacker, and Brownfield is destined to start at inside linebacker.

Just as he is expected to do on the offensive line, Cain will anchor EF’s defensive line that will also include Whatton.

Lewis, along with Mrvos, will again start in the Warriors secondary, a spot he has contributed in since his freshman season.

“There are some familiar faces back on the defense,” Collodi said. “All we preach is fast, physical football and if you do that, everything else takes care of itself usually.”

Schedule

Coach: Mike Collodi

2018 record: 8-2, 7-1

All-time record: 404-496-36

Date, Opponent, Time

8.30, at Deer Lakes*, 7

9.6, at Burrell*, 7

9.13, Freeport*, 7

9.20, Quaker Valley, 7

9.27, at Derry, 7

10.4, at North Catholic*+, 7

10.11, Mt. Pleasant*, 7

10.18, Uniontown*, 7

10.25, at Yough*, 7

*Class 3A Big East Conference game

+At Mars

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