By Dan Harrison
---- — The Pingree football team pushed the tempo with its hurry-up offense last season.
This fall, the Highlanders will look to push it a little bit more.
“We’ll have multiple speeds of our no-huddle offense,” said Pingree head coach Chris Powers. “Traditionally we would get to the line, wait, read the defense and go. Now, we also have like an Oregon style hurry-up where we’ll try to get as many plays off as possible to control the tempo in our favor.”
Speed looks to be plentiful for the Highlanders. Sticking with the Oregon comparison, the Highlanders have their own version of De’Anthony Thomas in tailback and defensive back Johnny Spears, who had a school record 18 touchdowns in just six games last year as a junior.
The Highlanders have even more speed in the backfield with junior Sal Fazio, who got some experience last year as a sophomore. Outside wideouts Justin Assad (a sophomore) and Alex Salalayko (a senior captain) are both burners who saw significant time last season.
“We emphasize it all the time: speed is everything. We put a lot of time into it and making sure we’re physically able to run the up-tempo game,” said Powers.
“Johnny looks great. He worked out all summer and put on some pounds, which will only help him. Sal is just as quick and is built similar, and Assad at 6-foot-4 is one of the fastest guys on our team.”
Senior captain Will Ager anchors an offensive line that returns mostly intact.
The one big position up for grabs is quarterback as senior Rob VanTuyl and sophomore Griffin Beal are battling for the starter’s spot.
“Rob and Griffin are both unique talents but are very different,” said Powers. “Rob is steady and makes all the right decisions, where Griffin is more of a raw athlete who has a lot of talent and probably has some maturity to go through. I don’t think we could go wrong with either one of them.”
Defensively, the Highlanders could be in for a special season with a big, athletic defensive line, plus the addition of St. John’s Prep transfer Sean Smerczynski playing middle linebacker. Senior captain Kyle Lentini will line up at defensive tackle along with sophomore behemoth Nino Leone, who had an excellent freshman season and is coming into his sophomore campaign at 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds.
In the secondary, Spears is a big-time turnover threat who hits deceivingly hard for his size while Salalayko, Assad and Fazio give Pingree loads of speed in the defensive backfield.
“We have a lot of athletes. We hope to put them in the right place so good things will happen,” said Powers. “And we’re excited to have Sean. So many of our opponents run power football, so to have that big linebacker in the middle will really help.”