Carbondale Area is looking to rebound from a down year

A rash of injuries plagued the Carbondale Area varsity football team last fall, one of the main reasons that the Chargers struggled in LFC action in 2016.

The Pioneer City lads fought gamely under veteran head coach Larry Gabriel III, managing to post three wins but coming up well short of a spot in the district tournament.

Bouncing Back

With that disappointing outcome in the rearview mirror once and for all … and with a solid off-season program under their belts … the Chargers are back and appear poised to make a serious playoff run.

“We struggled last year, but we've got a boatload of two and three-year starters back,” Coach Gabriel said Monday at the Sixth Annual LFC Media Day.

This year's edition of the event was held at the Regal Room in Olyphant. It attracted players and coaches from all 20 member teams for what's become the unofficial kick-off of the high school grid season.

“It was tough dealing with all those injuries at the time,” Coach Gabriel said. “But, maybe in the long run it will help us because now we have a good nucleus of experienced players.”

And while overall numbers for the program are lower than usual at the varsity level, the junior high roster is packed.

“Hopefully, this is just a one year aberration,” Coach Gabriel said. “We have some very good young players coming up.”

Ready to Roll

Heat acclimation work-outs commence on Monday, Aug. 4, followed by a week of double sessions leading up to that all-important first scrimmage.

Another exhibition game follows, setting the stage for Opening Night.

Carbondale Area is set to open up its 2017 regular season campaign on Friday, Aug. 25 at Western Wayne.

The Chargers return to the Pioneer City for their home opener in Week Two versus Old Forge.

“Our biggest area of improvement this year has to be getting out of the gate quickly,” Coach Gabriel said. “Offensively, we need to put long drives together and defensively we just can't allow these six, seven and eight minute drives.

“We also need to be more consistent. We can't make mistakes and incur penalties at key moments. Those things really came back to haunt us last year.”

Leadership

Larson and Connolly accompanied their coach to this year's Media Day.

Andrew and Shawn are both seniors and each brings an unique skill set to the table.

Larson is the anchor of Carbondale's offensive line having established himself as one of the area's top centers. He enters his fourth season as a starter and will also see significant time on the defensive line.

“Andrew has worked very hard to get where he is right now,” Coach Gabriel said. “He makes all the calls and makes sure that we're all on the same page.

“I'm excited about the fact that every single play begins with a kid who's been there four years.”

Connolly is a three-year starter who brings strength, tenacity, experience and intelligence with him to the offensive line.

“Shawn will play a key role in everything we do on both sides of the ball,” Coach Gabriel said. “He's a big, strong, smart kid.”

In addition to these two battle-tested veterans, local fans will also be treated to the talented of Jordan Tolerico, Noah Yates and Frank Burke.

Tolerico is that rarest of high school specimens: a four-year varsity starter at quarterback.

Yates has been a fixture at tight end for four years, while Burke enters his third campaign as Carbondale's starting fullback.

“We're really fortunate to have these kids,” Coach Gabriel said. “I think we probably have the edge in experience against most of the teams we'll see.”

Over & Out

Carbondale has struggled recently in LFC action.

Over the course of the past three years, the Chargers have posted a 9-21 record (.300).

The Pioneer City lads haven't advanced to the District Two playoffs since 2013, when they went 9-1 and were eventually eliminated in the Class AA tourney by Lakeland.

However, with a roster chock-full of talented veteran players, a D2 or Eastern Conference run is a realistic goal.

“It's been a long time since we had this many returning starters, especially on offense,” Coach Gabriel said.

“If we keep working hard, stay focused and avoid all those injuries this could be a good year.”