WILKES-BARRE TWP. — After first two seasons as head coach at King's, Jeff Knarr's tenure hasn't begun as he and the team would have hoped.
Starting Year 3 now with a vast majority of players in camp – men he recruited – Knarr is in the middle of his best training camp as King's mentor.
One of the reasons there's so much optimism at camp is because the players are getting along better than ever under Knarr.
"The thing we like is these seniors have done a good job of building team chemistry," the coach said. "The first year it's hard to do that even though we had a great group of seniors there. Last year there was no chemistry and the kids realized that's a problem and what you need and these guys have done a great job of doing that."
The Monarchs are coming off a 1-7 record in the MAC and a 1-9 overall mark, prompting coaches in the preseason poll to rank the squad tied for eighth in the 10-team league. But that's not going to stop the players from having high expectations.
"We're expecting what every team comes into the season expecting: to win every game and a championship climb," said senior linebacker Ryan Cordingly. "You're crazy thinking you're going to go into the MAC and not compete. And that's what we're planning on doing regardless of rankings and polls and what other people have said about our team."
With just four returning starters on offense, the Monarchs are youthful and may look like an inexperienced squad. But that's not the case.
Sophomore quarterback Bryant Klein played in five games, including four starts a year ago. Another sophomore signal-caller is Tyler Hartranft, who transferred to King's in January from Susquehanna. Both are competing for the starting gig.
Kyle McGrath, who rushed for a team-high 4.2 yards per carry as a freshman, is back for his sophomore season after an injury-plagued campaign. Junior Judens Giombert will also see some time in the backfield.
There's also a competition at receiver and tight end with five players vying for playing time at wideout and five more in a close race at tight end.
"Competition makes everyone better. They cheer for their teammates and they can only get better from there," Knarr said. "If we have two good guys and they're both competing, they're both going to get better and that will help us."
Cordingly and fellow senior linebacker Ryan Kelly are both four-year starters for the Monarchs and have been a staple for the team's solid play in that time. In their previous three seasons, they have combined for 430 tackles.
With a young defensive line last year, the duo put more pressure on themselves to get the job done. With most of the young D-line returning and having more experience, Cordingly and Kelly will change that method into a traditional linebacker role.
"It's all about the patience," Cordingly said. "You want to go out and make that play and make the tackle every time, but you know that if you're protecting the gap you're doing your job. It's all about just understanding your job and the film."
Jake Lehnowsky is a returning starter on the defensive line and defensive back Evan Crisman are two more returning starters on an experienced defense. The Monarchs also have a Ron Garrett returning from an injury to help bolster the defensive unit and nose guard Pete Santorelli played in seven games last year.
It's been a long first two seasons for Knarr and his team, only managing two wins in 20 games.
Losing players with injuries has been a thorn in the side for the Monarchs over the last few seasons. More depth should be able to cover if that happens again.
Although having a young team, King's shouldn't have problems improving on its record of the last two years, and opponents will have to watch out for upsets from the young, upstart team.