Highlands to rely on freshman, sophomore starters
Highlands coach Sam Albert has seen some young teams during his 30-year coaching career.
But never any as young as this year's Golden Rams.
With only five seniors in camp, Albert will be counting on some awfully young players to make varsity contributions.
“We'll have a freshman and sophomore-dominated lineup,” said Albert, who's entering his ninth season at Highlands. “You just hope to improve each week.”
One strong point for Highlands will be its linebacking corps.
Returning are all-conference starters Allan Cratsenberg and Zach Mazur, both juniors. Wes Bernath saw considerable playing time as a freshman last season.
“You've got to build around them,” Albert said. “My kids'll do anything they're asked.”
Cratsenberg was the 2011 Valley News Dispatch Defensive Player of the Year, leading the Golden Rams with 100 tackles.
Albert likes to run a 4-4 defense but will switch to a 3-5 and other alignments to keep teams off-balance.
At tight end, Cratsenberg caught 15 passes for 249 yards. This season, he might get some looks at quarterback, as Albert always has liked getting the football into the hands of a top athlete as often as possible.
The kicking game also is in good shape with the return of fourth-year letterman Michael Masarik.
Masarik had eight field goals and 14 extra points last season.
Only two starters return on offense and three on defense, so Albert won't get into the speculation game on who might be the front-runners for various positions.
“You have to wait until you get the pads on and see who's committed,” Albert said.
One returnee who will be counted on is guard Kalvin Hines. Last year, 11 seniors contributed to a third-place finish in the Greater Allegheny Conference.
Defense was the strong suit for the Golden Rams as Highlands outscored its six conference opponents only by a 101-91 count. But the Highlands defense limited powerhouse teams such as Indiana to 13 points and Mars to 11 points.
Albert also sees an tough conference this season.
“Franklin Regional and Greensburg Salem are big, and Mars and Knoch are both loaded this year,” Albert said.
There was some speculation that Highlands might drop to Class AA because of dwindling enrollment, but the Golden Rams missed the Class AA barrier by three students.
Highlands opens the season at Hollidaysburg, a new conference team. It will be the farthest the Golden Rams have traveled for a game since the early 1970s when Highlands was in the All-West Conference with Altoona.