(Statistical Information Courtesy of Professor Briggs' archives)
SHARON TIGERS 2020 FOOTBALL SEASON PREVIEW
Head Coach: Jason McElhaney, 2nd season (9-4 at Sharon,
45-33 in six years as a head coach)
Last Year: 9-4 overall, Won District 10 Class 3A title
With five returning starters on each side of the ball, the Sharon Tigers have a strong foundation in place as they begin their quest for a fourth consecutive District 10 Class 3A championship. After consecutive trips to the state semifinals in 2017 and 2018, Sharon reached the state quarterfinals last season before falling to Bald Eagle Area, 21-20.
However, graduation left several noticeable vacancies in the Sharon lineup. Quarterback Lane Voytik graduated as Mercer County's all-time leading passer with 8,543 yards and 90 career touchdowns. He threw for a county-record 3,017 yards and 30 touchdowns in 2019.
The Tigers also graduated four players who caught 30 or more passes last year, including Ty Eilam, who had 75 receptions for 1,262 yards. Trey Jones (48 receptions), Marcel Smith-Austin (39) and C.J. Parchman (30) are also gone.
But Sharon does return three starters on the offensive line in senior center-turned-guard Tommy Dawson (5-11, 300), junior guard Bryce Carroll (5-9, 255) and senior tackle Andrew Price (6-1, 235). All three started all 13 games last season for the Tigers. Carroll and Price both earned Second Team All-Region.
"It's nice to have guys back up front who have played a lot of meaningful snaps," head coach Jason McElhaney said.
At left tackle, sophomore Michael Mazurek (6-3, 260) has the inside track to start. Junior Dante Currie and senior Seth Hoovler are batting for the center position. Hoovler could also see time at guard or tackle, according to McElhaney.
Senior quarterback Brett Salsgiver will take over after spending the last two seasons as Voytik's understudy. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Salsgiver has played sparingly on the varsity football level but did play a major role last winter in helping the Sharon basketball team advance to the District 10 title game and the state playoffs.
Sharon likely will utilize more option and moving pockets on offense with Salsgiver. "Brett's had a good camp," McElhaney said. "He's doing a good job. He is a good, natural athlete and we're going to try to play to his strengths."
At running back, the Tigers will feature senior tailback Tyvell Richardson this year after he emerged during the second half of the 2019 season. Richardson ran for 682 yards and seven touchdowns as a junior. Junior Jayden Robinson and sophomore LaBrae Norris will push Richardson at tailback.
"Tyvell is the guy with the most experience and he's the most comfortable in the offense," McElhaney said. "That's a group that I'm really comfortable with."
Over the past several years, Sharon typically has used three- and four-receiver formations on offense. However, the Tigers plan to use the I-formation more regularly this season, with junior fullbacks Connor Krecek and Melvin Riley helping to lead the way. "It's going to look a lot more like 1990 Sharon than 2000s Sharon," McElhaney pointed out.
Senior Aidan Buck and junior Shane Rowe will both see time at tight end. Junior Ja'On Phillips returns at wide receiver after catching 28 passes in 2019. Senior receiver Javionne Smith returns after injuries limited him in 2019. Junior Daryan Allen and freshman Simeir Wade are also expected to battle for time on the outside.
"We're going to try to piggy-back off the run game and set up big plays in the passing game," McElhaney said. "Ideally, that's what we want to be. We want to run the ball and then go with play-action."
Like the offense, Sharon's experience on defense lies up front. Buck returns at one end spot while a replacement for pass-rushing specialist Corte Williams must still be determined on the opposite side. Second Team All-Region honoree Dawson, Carroll, Price and Hoovler are all expected to play at defensive tackle. "We really have some big bodies in there that we like," McElhaney said of the tackle quartet.
Junior Nick Dignall returns at outside linebacker while senior middle linebacker Braelin Hawkins returns to the lineup after being injured in the 2019 season opener at Wilmington.
"(Hawkins) is really itching to get back out there for us," McElhaney said. "He's a good football player and a really heady kid. He called the defensive signals for us as a sophomore."
Krecek and Rowe are battling for the other linebacker position. Norris could see time at linebacker or safety, depending upon the opponent.
Cornerback Phillips returns as the lone starter in the defensive backfield. Richardson played as a nickelback during the season and will likely start at safety. Salsgiver and Norris are in contention for the other safety post. Smith and Wade are among the top contenders to start opposite Phillips at corner.
"That's one area that we have really had to do a lot of coaching because there are so many new guys," McElhaney said of the secondary.
Senior Jake Auchter will again handle the place-kicking duties after accounting for 51 points last season. He went 42 of 50 on extra points and kicked three field goals. Salsgiver or junior Colin Price will punt. Dawson and Carroll can both long snap.
Sharon will play Grove City, Hickory and Slippery Rock in league play this year. "It's going to be fun," McElhaney said. "These are going to be great games."