Tyrone coach Jason Wilson said before the season that one of the strongest dividers between this year’s Golden Eagles and the two that preceded it and finished below .500 was attitude.
Wilson wasn’t trying to pile on players who were no longer around the program and couldn’t defend themselves, and he wasn’t trying to pass the buck for a pair of seasons that by any measure fell well below expectations.
Instead, Wilson was simply stating what he could see at practices. Seniors from the prior two seasons had been rather mellow, and when your top guys don’t exude fire and emotion, that’s going to trickle down to the underclassmen, as well.
But it’s not a problem that surfaced this year in training camp, and it hasn’t been a problem in either of the Golden eagles’ games during a 2-0 start.
Players like senior Zac Albright are a big reason why.
Between the lines, you know what you’re getting with Albright. He’s a three-time letter winner who can carry the workload from his running back position and deliver a hit on defense as a corner back.
Outside of the lines Albright is every bit as valuable to Wilson and the Eagles because of his attitude and demeanor. Not only does Albright want to be exactly where he’s at – a two-way starter on a team that’s making some waves – but he’s been putting in work for three years in anticipation of the kind of season he’s becoming a part of now.
“I’ve waited for this for three years now, for me to be a senior and be the starting running back,” Albright said after running for 200 yards in Tyrone’s 33-13 victory over Central on Friday. “I love every single bit of it.”
There are plenty more like him on the roster – seniors who have been itching to have a season all their own where they could put their mark on the Tyrone football program – players like Arik Reader and Braeden Nevling-Ray. Wanting it and producing, however, are two different things, and through a pair of games this senior class has shown it’s all about results.
Albright was the team’s leading rusher against Bellwood-Antis and Central, and his style of power running has been the perfect fit for the Golden Eagles’ offense because it plays to the unit’s strengths. With an experienced and powerful offensive line, what it needs most is a back who’s not going to waste time making up his mind once he gets to the hole, and Albright has done that well.
“(The shotgun offense) probably does fit Zac well because when he gets the ball then he can see the hole and he bursts right through it,” said Tyrone coach Jason Wilson. “He’s doing excellent at that right now. He’s a tough runner. He’s a downhill runner, finding seams, and he can break tackles. Several times (against Central) you saw he broke through that first level and was able to expand it to the edge and burst away.”
As much as offenses have changed over the years, the fact is it’s not common for Tyrone to have great success without a premier back getting significant touches and yards. Of the program’s 10 District championships, only one was ever done without a thousand-yard back (1987).
Tyrone hasn’t had a thousand-yard runner since 2015, but Albright could be the next guy to do it. With 295 yards through two games, he’s well on his way.
There are no two ways about it, Tyrone’s defense is vastly improved through two games in 2018 and there are plenty of reasons why. The addition of Brandon Homan and Damon Gripp to the secondary has been a game-changer, as evidenced against Central when Gripp came up with four picks and Homan broke up four other passes.
The Golden Eagles staunch effort against the run has been another factor. With a line that rotates Connor Wertz, Isaac Jackson, Arik Reader, Braeden Nevling-Ray and Kyle Silva, who was on the sidelines in street clothes Friday night, it’s going to take a pretty good offensive unit to make some space. Tyrone is allowing just 54.5 yards per game on the ground so far, down remarkably from the 234 it was allowing last season at the same point in time.
The secondary is markedly better than it was a year ago, as well. While the group allowed 197 passing yards to Noah Muthler and the Dragons, it kept plays in front of it and was never beat by the deep ball. After two games in 2017, the Golden Eagles were surrendering 162.5 yards through the air. In 2018, the number has fallen to 122.5.
Senior quarterback/linebacker Denver Light was out for most of the fourth quarter last night. He was examined by the team’s athletic trainer and did not seem to be affected by anything major, and in keeping with HIPPA regulations nothing is being said by the team publicly.
One thing is for sure – Light has been an impact player on both sides of the ball. After passing for 230 yards in the season-opener against B-A, he ran for 47 yards and scored a touchdown against Central. He has taken just one sack this season, and after completing 4 of 12 passes for 82 yards against the Dragons he leap-frogged Brandon Hoover to move into sixth place on Tyrone’s career passing yardage list with 2,491. It’s very likely that he will put a serious run into the number two player on that list, Leonard Wilson, who threw for 3,482 yards from 2003-2005.
In 2015, minutes before a District 6 2A semifinal game at Gray-Veterans Memorial Field, the visitors side of the stadium, packed with fans from Juniata, was filled well beyond what was happening in the home bleachers. Attendance has been a concern ever since.
The first two games of the season may be signaling a shift back to the heightened fan interest that Tyrone was known for during its championship runs.
The home side was filled for the Backyard Brawl against Bellwood-Antis, and crowds around the fence were lined two rows deep in most places.
Against Central, the Golden Eagles faithful filled the visitors section, and a rowdy student section made the trip and stayed through the hour-and-forty-minute lightning delay.
When the safety intermission had ended, attendance on the Dragons’ side of the field dipped by about 50 percent, while Tyrone’s stands remained packed.