NEW BETHLEHEM — A new head coach, some different faces in key positions, but all of that within the familiar scheme of a spread offense will have the Redbank Valley Bulldogs looking very much like other seasons.
How they look and what they accomplish on the field can be two different things and that’s what Blane Gold is focusing on as his team heads into a new season that starts Friday at home against Keystone.
Gold replaced long-time coach Ed Wasilowski in the offseason, but it’s hardly been a big transition considering Gold, a Franklin native, enters his seventh season with the program as the Bulldogs host Keystone Friday night.
So much of Gold’s big concerns are similar to past preseason goals — find the right players to plug into open areas and try to play a more physical style of defense. Last year’s season-ending 52-7 loss to eventual District 9 Class 1A champion Coudersport gave Gold enough ammunition for an offseason directive.
The Bulldogs, who finished 7-4, gave up 323 yards rushing to the Falcons and they yielded nearly 300 yards per game on the ground in their four losses — Coudersport, C-L, Smethport and Curwensville.
“For us, the whole camp has been focusing on defense,” Gold said. “We’ve had a renewed focus on defense. We’ll spend as much time on defense as we do on offense and in some live sessions, I’ve been impressed with how we’ve been flying around on defense.
“But our success has been limited to being able to stopping the run. We know we have to stop to run and we’ve preached it relentlessly (in the preseason). For us to take the next step, prove stop the run and beat teams from (old AML) and they run the football. Even though our strategy hasn’t changed, the way we’re doing it is being more aggressive and intense, bringing as much pressure as we can.”
The Bulldogs return most of their defensive starting lineup, including four on the line with senior Ethan Hetrick and sophomore Joe Mansfield on the ends. Hetrick, a Small School South All-Conference selection, had 40 tackles, three sacks and an interception. Mansfield finished with four sacks.
“I love it,” said Hetrick, the team’s top returning pass-catcher as well. “When you’re out there at receiver, you can’t really get your hands on anyone, but on the line, you can do whatever you want. It’s a completely different switch. It’s pretty awesome. It’s hard and you have to be physical, but I love it.”
Sophomore Kolby Barrett and junior Hudson Martz, Barrett at tackle and Martz from linebacker to nose tackle. Seniors Trenton Bowersox and Ethan Wadding will rotate into the line as well.
A tackle last year, sophomore Ray Shreckengost moves to inside linebacker with returning senior Chase Bish. Junior Kobe Bonanno and senior Justin Ferringer are the outside linebackers. Bonanno could lineup at tackle as well with senior Austin Leasure moving into an outside spot with junior Coltin Bartley filling in on the inside as well.
In the secondary, senior Sam Hetrick is back at cornerback while senior Javin Brentzel returns at safety. Senior Alex Carlson and junior Dalton Bish will see time at the other corner with Bish providing depth at safety as well.
“We moved Ray back to linebacker because we have some guys who can be physical up front and we moved Hudson up front to be a nose tackle. We redesigned our defensive based on him disrupting things up front,” Gold said. “We have some beef with Kolby and Trent. Chase Bish is the quarterback of the defense and we two very physical guys with Ray and Kobe at linebacker.
“I’m really confident in secondary with two returning starters. In any game we play, Sam will be around the best athletes and with Javin too, those two can match one on one with anyone we play. That’ll allow us to stop to run because we can count on them in the secondary.”
Flipping over to the offensive side, the long-run spread offensive theory is alive and well: Take what the defense gives you.
“I’m a big believer that you don’t fix anything that isn’t broken,” Gold said. “There’s no reason to change anything offensively. (Offensively coordinator) Jason (Kundick) has done a tremendous job with that. We’ve averaged 30 points per game over the past six years. I’d never worked with the spread when I got here, but the way we spread the field, it’s really a testament to Jason and the talent we have. Nothing is going to change.”
But who will be throwing the ball and running with it will. Sophomore Gunner Mangiantini will be the quarterback with senior Chase Bish backing him up while Shreckengost and Bonanno look to be the 1-2 punch with ball-carrying duties.
Shreckengost moves to the backfield from the offensive line. At 5-foot-11, 199 pounds, he got carries in junior varsity last year. Bonanno, at 6-foot-1 and 260 pounds, is the interesting move. The former quarterback missed last year with a knee injury and returns looking to bruise and batter defense with some physical running.
Martz had 22 carries last year and will also get some reps in the backfield.
“The only guy on roster with any snaps under center was Kobe,” Gold said. “He had some meaningful snaps as a freshman and we thought he’d be the guy, but as we worked with the kids, we saw that Gunner was a student of the game and he had good work ethic at quarterback, so putting Gunner at quarterback and putting Kobe in the backfield was the way to go. Kobe was 100 percent on board with this, and what we’ve seen in practice, we’re happy to have him coming out of the backfield.”
The offensive line is mostly the same. It lost one regular with Bartley at center, Barrett and Bowersox at left and right guard, and third-year starter Aidan Gardner at right tackle.
Senior Luke Hopper looks to be the guy at left tackle while sophomores Kade Minnick and Ethan Young filling in at guard and freshman Carsen Rupp backing up at tackle.
Bowersox, at jumped into a starting role on the line as a sophomore and helped Clint Thurston rush for over 1,500 yards and 26 touchdowns two years ago.
“When you’re going against people like Clint who are faster than you, you’re going to get better,” said Bowersox, another returning all-conference player. “I’ve probably gained 40 pounds since then and stronger and the whole line has worked hard to be good. We try to challenge each other.”
Gold, who worked with the line on previous staffs and moving forward as well, likes his guys in the trench.
“We were young and not good at the outset two years ago, but that group led by Trent broke our season rushing record and those guys are juniors and seniors now,” Gold said. “The offensive line is good. You don’t win anything on paper, but on paper we’re pretty excited with what we have.”
Two of the three Bulldogs who caught more than 30 passes last year have graduated. Ethan Hetrick caught 32 passes for 551 yards, scoring a team-high eight touchdowns and earning all-conference honors. At 6-foot-6, he’ll be a welcome sight downfield for Mangiantini.
“It’s going pretty good,” Hetrick said. “It’s a big difference between Gunner and Keaton. Our main thing is getting him some confidence in throwing the deep ball. He’s really good and knows the field really well. I just like to run deep and have them throw it in the air, because I’m 6-6 and not many people can out-jump me. That’s what Keaton was really good at.”
The 6-foot-2 senior Sam Hetrick, a state-medaling high jumper, might be able to get up even better than Ethan. He’s back looking to bump his catch total from eight last year and will lineup on the other side. In the slots are Dalton Bish and Brentzel, who combined for seven catches, look to be the starters although senior Trenten Rupp and Mansfield will see action as well.
“I think with potential on paper, our receivers might be the most I’m excited about,” Gold said. “Ethan is 6-6 coming off a all-conference season, that’s a luxury for Gunner and with how strong we are in other areas. Sam is probably the best athlete on the team on the other side. Javin got his feet wet and he had a tremendous summer and Dalton has knocked our socks off. This spring, we told him if he did XYZ and he did far more than that in the offseason.
“It’s been incredible and Joe is my fifth guy and Trenten is rotating into the lineup. That could be a headache for defenses. All five of our receivers have a chance to win a one-on-one matchup at a given time.”
With special teams, first-year senior Anthony Baileys will do the place-kicking. Martz is back as the punter.
The Bulldogs were picked to finish No. 3 behind Curwensville and Elk County Catholic in this year’s Small School South Division, which lost Clarion-Limestone to the co-op move with Clarion starting this year. They’ll also play Union/A-C Valley in the division while taking on Small School North teams Otto-Eldred, Sheffield, Smethport and Coudersport. They’ll play District 10’s Iroquois and Large School Division member Punxsutawney to round out a 10-game schedule.
Check off the big concerns and the Bulldogs should contend in Class 1A.
“We’ve got guys in the room who won a conference championship (KSAC Small) and won a playoff game,” Gold said. “We’re six years removed from being in a D9 title game. For us to take the program to the next level, we have to prove we can compete for a championship. We haven’t been bashful in the past about that, but we’re beyond where a winning season or making playoffs is a good year. We’ve done that for awhile now.
The one thing we haven’t done is win a district championship. We have a good program, but we don’t want that to be in the way of great. Performance is everything, paper is nothing, but I’m excited what we have on paper. We’ll find out very quick if that paper translates.”
Gold’s coaching staff consists of Jason and Mike Kundick, Jake Dougherty, Craig Hibell, Chad Ortz and Adam Barrett.
Seniors: Alex Carlson, Ethan Hetrick, Javin Brentzel, Justin Ferringer, Chase Bish, Sam Hetrick, Ethan Wadding, Luke Hopper, Trent Bowersox, Austin Leasure, Anthony Baileys.
Juniors: Hudson Martz, Trenten Rupp, Kobe Bonanno, Dalton Bish, Gage Snyder, Matt Hopper, Coltin Bartley, Brandon Brown, Aidan Gardner.
Sophomores: Gunner Mangiantini, Derrick Downs, Ethan Clinger, Ray Shreckengost, Kolby Barrett, Ethan Young, Anthony McGuire, Kade Minnick, Joe Mansfield.
Freshmen: Tate Minich, Cam Wagner, Aiden Ortz, Zeldon Fisher, Carsen Rupp, Wyatt Bussard, Braydon Delp, Gabe Carrol, Aiden Lehnortt, Colton Shick.