Homer DeLattre's first Hollidaysburg Golden Tiger football team will be unveiled tonight.
Of course, it might still be a couple of games before it really takes shape.
"We have our ones, and we have our backups, but that will be a continuing, ongoing process throughout the year," said DeLattre, the former Moshannon Valley standout who came over from Corry over the summer to take over for John Barton, who stepped down as the Tigers coach. "The best programs in the state have depth. We want to be able to have quality depth, so, if a guy isn't performing, you can throw another guy in there and become better, or having enough guys to rotate, if you need to."
It all starts for DeLattre and the Tigers at Natrona Heights, where they'll travel to take on Highlands in what should be an emotional Greater Allegheny Conference clash for both teams at 7 p.m.
The Tigers are coming off a 3-7 campaign in which they advanced to the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs. Part of the reason they moved into the postseason was because they topped Highlands 33-26 in the season opener; the teams finished tied in the conference standings.
Hollidaysburg returns 19 lettermen, including four of whom started last year. Running back-linebacker Greg Dinges, running back-defensive back Reid Miller and lineman Zach Simpson started on both sides of the ball, while Reid Brinkhoff was a starter at offensive guard. Simpson had been a question mark because of an injury early in camp, but DeLattre said he'll be ready to go tonight.
Game: Hollidaysburg Golden Tigers (3-7) vs. Highlands Golden Rams (4-5)
Where: Nick J. Staresenic Stadium, Natrona Heights
When: Tonight, 7 p.m.
The coaches: Hollidaysburg - Homer DeLattre (52-64, 12th year); Highlands - Sam Albert (105-88-1, 21st year)
Series record: Hollidaysburg, 1-0 (first met in 2012)
Last meeting: Hollidaysburg, 33-26 (Aug. 31, 2012)
n records from 2012
Miller and Dinges were the Tigers' second and third leading rushers last year, combining for almost 600 yards. However, there were a lot of other players with whom DeLattre needed to get familiar.
"We've just been in the evaluation stages the first two weeks, making sure each kid got a fair evaluation through the scrimmages. Through the weekend, we were able to narrow it down and finalize our depth chart. That's been the biggest focus, at this point," DeLattre said. "As far as going forward, we want to be more consistent."
Senior Caleb Parnell has gotten the nod over Josh Bickley to start under center. DeLattre was pleased with where his offense was heading into the regular season.
"Being able to mix the run and the pass was something we were unsure we'd be able to do effectively and being consistent doing both. I think that's something we came around at doing that will really help us down the road," DeLattre said.
The Tigers will need that to keep Highlands on its toes. The Golden Rams were one of the youngest teams in all the WPIAL last season, and their best player is 6-foot-3, 220-pound linebacker Allan Cratsenberg. Cratsenberg, who's made 211 tackles and 23 sacks over the past two seasons, is on the radar of a number of bigger colleges, although none have offered him a scholarship yet.
Six other defensive starters are back, too.
The Rams sustained one huge loss in the offseason, though, when wide receiver-linebacker Ryan Richards was killed in July when he fell out of the bed of a pickup truck.
"We'll never replace him on the field. He was a three-year starter and a great kid," Highlands coach Sam Albert said. "I think the kids are responding really well. We made him an honorary captain, and we mention him at every practice in our prayer. It gave them a new perspective. You never know, and, in the big picture, there's a lot more to life."
DeLattre knows that will add to the opening-game challenge.
"It's going to be very emotional for them. He was one of their best student-athletes," DeLattre said. "So we're going into a storm of enthusiasm, energy and emotion on the first night. It's very important we get off to a good start. Highlands is solid."