WILKES-BARRE — For three years, King’s football coach Jeff Knarr didn’t have to worry about who was going to line up under center for his team. That job for the most part belonged to Zach Whitehead, who played in 27 games in that span.
Now playing professionally in Germany, Whitehead set several school records for the Monarchs and is big shoes to fill.
Combine Whitehead’s loss with the graduation of receiver Tyler Marroni – who also piled up multiple school records – and the Monarchs’ offense is in a position they haven’t been in in quite some time. After averaging 84 plays per game last year good for fourth in the country, Knarr finds himself looking for comparable play-makers, while tweaking the plays to work with the newcomers.
“There’s a lot of talent graduated with the offense.” Knarr said. “It’s gonna change a little bit because we’re gonna lead on the running backs where last year we were veteran and the quarterback was veteran.”
At QB, Gabe Boccello saw some snaps last year behind Whitehead, but not many, while Tommy Klock is a sophomore that transferred from Division II Millersville. It’s possible that Knarr also goes with a platoon situation for the first game to see how everything plays out. After the opener at Moravian on Saturday at 1 p.m., King’s has an early bye in Week 2, which could be a blessing in disguise to help sort out the position.
“There’s a definite chance they can split time because that might help them figure things out,” Knarr said. “In practice, they’re not getting hit. So when it starts for real, we’ll see how the kids respond to both of them.”
Marroni’s replacements have more experience as Tim Constantino and C.J. Curry have been part of the offense for the last three seasons and are familiar with schemes and routes, and are ready to step in.
“We’re young there, but Timmy played in all 10 games last year,” Knarr said.
Running backs Jordan Downes and Titus Nelson will likely be heavily relied upon in the offensive scheme. They both saw plenty of snaps last year in the balanced offense with the duo combining to rush for over 1,000 yards and more than 200 yards receiving.
“We’re going to get both of those guys involved in the pass game,” Knarr said about his experienced backfield. “Everyone thinks we throw the ball all over the yard, and we do, but…we were still kinda balanced. We’re going to find ways to get Jordan and Titus involved in the offense around other things. We always try to balance running and throwing.”
With just four returning starters on offense, it may seem like that unit will be the most inexperienced. But on defense, the Monarchs lost eight key starters, including all four defensive lineman starters from a year ago. It’s not a total rebuild, but it can certainly be a learning experience for the defense, which returns just three starters from a year ago.
Leading the way on defense is Old Forge product Mando Sallavanti at linebacker.
“We may start seven sophomores on defense. Young is what we are, that’s for sure,” Knarr added. “It’s a little bit wait-and-see because there’s many unknowns. … Pressure-based we’re still looking to apply pressure, we’re just trying to figure out who and how.”
The Monarchs also lost their dependable place kicker in Mike Tumminello, who appeared in 15 games over the last four years and was one of the more accurate kickers in the MAC last season. Knarr will lean on a freshman kicker in either Kenny Macko, a Meyers grad, or Jack Barreras.
In what can be a rebuilding year after finishing 5-5 last year, Knarr’s team has a favorable schedule early on. After the bye in Week 2, they take on Hartwick, one of four teams on the schedule that finished under .500 last year. Add in the first-year Alvernia program and the Monarchs could be in position for a repeat performance from 2017.
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