Healthy Hempfield hopes to capitalize with talented group
Victories against McKeesport and Latrobe to open the 2012 season, a close loss at Connellsville and another victory against Kiski Area.
Suddenly, Hempfield was sporting a 3-1 record and appeared to be rolling toward its best season in years.
Then the injury bug bit the Spartans, who then lost four of their final five regular-season games before dropping a 30-point decision to Seneca Valley just days after squeaking into the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs.
“After the Kiski game, we were 3-1 and ranked, but then we lost our two starting running backs for the season,” coach Rich Bowen said. “Some support guys also got hurt. ... It was one of those years where the excitement was back. The kids were excited and started to believe in themselves.”
Even with the slew of injuries that struck Hempfield in Bowen's first season as coach — backfield mates Joey DeFloria (shoulder) and Skyler Carkuff (knee) were among the casualties — he was quick to acknowledge his players' resilience.
“We still played some pretty decent football,” Bowen said. “We lost some of our playmakers, but it gave a chance for some other guys to step up and take advantage of an opportunity.”
With DeFloria and Carkuff out, DeLorian Day emerged as the Spartans' leading rusher. All three return for their senior year and will be joined by quarterback Ty George, who passed for just more than 1,000 yards last season.
But he'll be without graduated receivers Tyler Handlan, Cameron Updyke and Lucas Sphon, who combined for 68 receptions.
Before DeFloria was hurt in the fourth game of the season, he caught 12 passes, including one for a touchdown. He again figures to be a prime target.
“We've talked a lot about living by a motto: ‘It's the next guy up,' ” Bowen said. “If you're a backup, you're expected to perform if your number's called. I was proud that we did the best we could last year and made the playoffs.”
Along the line, Bowen said 6-foot-7, 315-pound two-way tackle Tony Pilato was expected to lead the way along with defensive ends Max Adams (6-2, 250) and Ian Lewandowski (6-2, 215). Linebacker Josh Kempka (6-1, 220) also should help bolster the Spartans' defense.
“We're excited about this year, and we hope to have some success and carry it through for next year,” Bowen said. “What we're looking for is continued improvement. We made some progress last year in running a good football program.”