Hopewell again to rely on ball-control, defense
Players the caliber of Paul Posluszny and Rushel Shell pass through the halls of Hopewell once every decade or so. Certainly coach Dave Vestal doesn't complain when they do.
But in most years, Vestal can't rely on the “superstar” model to win football games, so he turns to a more traditional approach: control the line of scrimmage, run the ball and play good defense.
That will be the game plan this year as the Vikings come off a 4-4 Parkway Conference campaign and a playoff berth.
The Vikings only have three starters returning on offense, but that number doesn't include running back Tyler Ishman. As a sophomore reserve last season, Ishman was pressed into service when regular tailback Adam Murray was injured. Ishman responded by rushing for nearly 5 yards per carry (103 attempts, 506 yards).
This year, Ishman will shoulder the bulk of the running game from the outset with help from Mitch Bufalini.
“Tyler Ishman did a great job for us at tailback last year,” Vestal said. “He put on some weight over the offseason, and he really worked on his speed and quickness.
“He has a lot of intangibles for a football player that you just don't teach.”
At least some of Ishman's success can be traced back to the Vikings' traditionally solid offensive line, which returns two starters and again should be a strength.
Hopewell doesn't always have the biggest linemen, but their attention to technique and knowledge of their assignments cover up their lack of size — just one lineman from the 2009 WPIAL runner-up team weighed more than 200 pounds.
“You don't have to be the biggest group. As long as you work together as a unit, you have a chance of having some success,” Vestal said. “We have a lot of competition, and I think we're establishing a little bit of depth, so it will be interesting to see how it works out.”
The line will have to be at its best while a new quarterback gets acclimated. Vestal said at least four players entered camp as candidates for the job.
Defensively, six starters return, including three in the secondary. Ishman also got a lot of experience on that side of the ball, again stepping in for the injured Murray. The defense will have to be up to the task early while the offense gets itself in sync.
“It's real important in the early part of our season to play all three parts of the game,” Vestal said. “I think we're under the radar a bit, because people are looking at the other teams. We just have to take care of ourselves and just keep getting better each game.”