WILMINGTON — A year ago, Salesianum coach Bill DiNardo had experienced skill players returning on offense but an untested offensive line. This year, it is the opposite, as the line returns intact, but the Sals are replacing their quarterback, running backs and wide receivers from a team that advanced to the state championship game.
“Our skill is new. Our skill is untested,” DiNardo said. “I think they’re very talented, and I think they’re going to be very good, but we haven’t seen them under fire yet – yet. But this is typically where you are at this time of year.”
The veteran coach has had to replace a lot of talent in his long career on the sidelines.
“This is part of high school football. You get guys for two years, maybe three years, and they you move on. You have to get somebody else,” he said.
Junior Zach Gwynn moves into the starting quarterback slot. Gwynn begins the season with some clutch playing time under his belt. Starter Garrett Cannon was lost to an injury during last season’s semifinal-round win over Middletown. Gwynn threw three touchdown passes against Smyrna in the final.
“Getting varsity experience last year gave my confidence a boost, getting to see the speed of everything. And having a little bit of success in the championship game really helped, too,” Gwynn said.
The Sals will rely on a host of players in the backfield, including juniors Michael DiNardo and John Hahn and senior John Andreoli. The top pass catchers are likely to be senior Mike Drake, junior Desmond Bagley and senior tight end Josh Patrick.
“It’s going to be a team effort,” Gwynn said. “It’s going to be all of us. We have a lot of great skill guys jumping in at different spots.”
Drake said this group of players is eager to cement its own legacy at 18th and Broom.
“We have to get used to playing with each other, but it’s fun. These are kids I’ve been playing with for four years now. It’s our turn to prove it on the varsity level,” he said.
Drake, a safety, said the 3-4 defense will be anchored by the linebackers, especially Patrick. Senior Zeb Wright, a three-year starter, returns, as do juniors Brandon Crkvenac and Casey Spink on the line, and junior Carson Salvo and Andreoli in the defensive backfield. The team allowed fewer than 16 points per game last season.
Salesianum’s appearance in the state championship matchup in 2015 was the school’s third in the last four years. To get back there, the team will have to navigate a difficult path. The season begins Sept. 9 against brother Oblate school Father Judge of Philadelphia, which dealt Salesianum its only regular-season defeat last year. The team faces a tough four-game stretch beginning in week three, facing Smyrna, Caravel and Middletown on the road before returning home to battle Concord. Of the five other schools to make the Division I tournament in 2015, the Sals face four.
“Our schedule is brutal,” DiNardo opined. “I’ve been here 13 years, and I can’t think of too many breathers we’ve had on our schedule. That’s what we are. One thing our kids understand, and they’ll be reminded of this, is that we don’t have an off week. After the game is over, win or lose, we have to recover, and we have to get back on the horse on Monday.”
09/09/16 FATHER JUDGE (Pa.) 7:30 pm
09/16/16 CAESAR RODNEY 7:30 pm
09/23/16 @ Smyrna 7 pm
09/30/16 @ Caravel 7 pm
10/07/16 @ Middletown 7:30 pm
10/15/16 CONCORD 7:30 pm
10/21/16 @ Dover 7 pm
10/28/16 WILLIAM PENN 7:30 pm (Reunion weekend)
11/03/16 SUSSEX TECH 6 pm
11/11/16 ST. MARK’S 7:30 pm