By Michael Bullock:
Coach: Jeff Sampson, 3rd season (15-10), 14th season overall (76-78)
League/division: Schuylkill League Division 2
2019 record: 6-6 (4-5 Tri-Valley League)
Postseason: Lost to Williams Valley 36-7 in District 11 Class 1A championship.
Passing: Comp-Att, Yards, TDs
Jonas McGrath: 40-112, 514, 5
Rushing: Att-Yards, Avg, TDs
Chase Herb: 224-1,461, 6.5, 12
Receiving: Rec-Yards, Avg, TDs
Chase Herb: 13-110, 8.5, 1
Key returning players: Chase Herb, sr., HB-DE; Caden Richards, sr., TE-OLB; Jonas McGrath, jr., QB-CB; Jeremiah Umbenhauer, jr., OT-DL; Cameron Carlin, jr., OG-DT; Josh Reho, jr., OT-LB; Mason Boltz, jr., WR-OLB; Jacob Scheib, so., FB-DE; Justis Troutman, so., C-DT; Kameron Wetzel, so., HB-FS.
Outlook: Even though COVID-19 prevented Tri-Valley from beginning preseason practice until mid-September and playing for real until the first Friday in October, there’s plenty of talent on hand in the Hegins-Valley View Metroplex. While the Bulldogs have just three seniors on their roster, many of Jeff Sampson’s juniors were in pads when Tri-Valley defeated Williams Valley in the 2018 District 11 Class 1A final and reached states — so they’ve had a big-game taste, and they renewed that appetite by reaching the 11-A final a year ago. Having a terrific offensive backfield is one thing, but Tri-Valley has experienced people up front as well and Sampson believes his big eaters may be the key to extending the 2020 campaign well into November. Stay tuned.
3 Things to Know:
1. Herb certainly will do his share of heavy lifting: Back for his final high school campaign in a helmet and pads, Chase Herb will get his share of offensive touches. Yet he’s also likely to find the ball quite frequently when Tri-Valley is on defense. In addition to rushing for nearly 1,500 yards (6.5 ypc average) and 12 touchdowns, the 6-foo-3, 215-pound Herb hauled in 13 catches for 110 yards and another score. And while opposing defensive coordinators will make stopping him a priority, that’s a difficult proposition since Herb can inflict plenty of damage running downhill yet he’s also effective in space. Shifted to defensive end late last season — Herb was a first-team TVL all-star at inside linebacker — Herb also is the Bulldogs’ leading returning tackler (89). “He brings a lot of experience and leadership to the table. He’s been around, starting at one point or another for three years and probably played as a freshman,” Sampson said. “He’s not an overly vocal person, but he leads by example. He’s got good grades and he does well in school, he never misses a practice, and he runs hard on every single play at practice. He leads by example, and he’s an invaluable asset for us offensively, defensively and as a captain.”
2. Bulldogs trying to continue momentum gained in 2019: Burdened by an unsightly 1-4 mark just a handful of weeks into last season, Sampson’s resilient Bulldogs collared victories in five of their final seven outings and reached the District 11 Class 1A title game. So, one preseason objective is to continue the momentum generated by what happened in late September, October and early November. And with nine returning starters on defense and eight on offense, don’t be surprised if a Tri-Valley program that graduated a small group and has just three seniors among this contingent takes advantage of its youthful yet experienced collection of players. “I give credit to the kids,” Sampson said. “Again, we didn’t have a big senior class last year, and that was followed up by an even-smaller junior class. So last year wasn’t an experiment … even though we had three or four sophomores and a freshman on the offensive line. It was a learning experience, and there was [lots of] growth, because I think they believe in each other. I know at the end of the season they looked forward to this year coming up. Unfortunately, there were some thngs that weren’t in our control. … We adapted pretty well the last two-and-a-half weeks, but I attribute that to the amount of kids we had coming back that got playing time last year.”
3. Late start hasn’t put a lid on optimistic outlook: The Bulldogs didn’t begin preseason workouts until they were nearly two weeks into September because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Regardless of a start that’s put them behind all of their new Schuylkill League playmates, Sampson is pleased with his young club’s progress since many of his players continued to work out when the coaching staff was prohibited from organizing any offseason activities. While Tri-Valley has just five regular-season scraps scheduled, the ‘Dawgs believe they can make some things happen even though they need to do some catching up. “They just have to come out and play the way they’re taught and come out and play the game hard, be aggressive and relax,” Sampson said. “I think that will come to them. There are some younger kids that didn’t play much last year that we have in the lineups. … Yet, I think it’s going to come down to our offensive and defensive lines. I think our defensive line is pretty stout. Cam Carlin was [honorable mention] last year, and Scheibie was new to that [defensive end] position yet played very well last year. The offensive line is still young. We have two sophomores and three juniors [plugged in there]. I think our backfield is very talented, so it’s going to come down to us just being able to move people enough up front to create a crease and let those guys do what they do. I’m confident in this group, and they’re well established.”