Mtn. Lions feeling better with year of new system under their belts
The Mirror will preview a high school football team each day until Aug. 22. For a complete rundown of all of the teams in the region, pick up a copy of “Blitz” at area newstands.
Today: Altoona Area
Many local high school football programs are feeling behind schedule due to the coronavirus pandemic cutting into spring and early summer workouts.
That isn’t the case at Altoona, where the feeling is that the team is ahead of where it was last year when new coach Vince Nedimyer Jr. was breaking in a new offense.
“Coming into the season, we’re a lot farther ahead than we were last season,” Altoona senior wideout and defensive back Nick Petucci said. “Everyone knows their positions and everyone has a better idea what they are doing.”
Quarterback/athlete Marcus Day is one of many players who have an entire year of playing experience under their belt.
“We have a lot of kids coming back that played last year,” Nedimyer said. “We have 24 seniors, so our hope is that we’re going to be better than what we were. Having kids playing in the same positions they played in last year will help.”
At times, especially early last season, Nedimyer’s run-heavy offense designed to control the clock was executed with confusion as the Mountain Lions transitioned from a no-huddle, pass heavy offense they used in 2018 under former coach Nick Felus.
“Everything is going to be a lot smoother,” Altoona senior lineman Trevor Manley said. “We have the playbook down. We’re excited to play and watch this offense come into its own.”
The key to the Mountain Lions having a successful season comes down to communication and dedication, something Nedimyer has noticed as a strong point in offseason workouts.
“We’re only going to be as good as the entire team,” Nedimyer said. “We’re getting that buy-in from every single kid. I could not be happier with the turnout of our kids at summer workouts in terms of kids coming back every single day. It’s a hungry group, and we’re excited to get started.”
Altoona went just 1-9 last season and was winless in the Mid-Penn Conference, but this year’s success won’t simply be measured in wins and losses.
“We just want to put out a good product every week,” Petucci said. “Of course, we want to win games and go into every game with the mentality that we can win the game. It’s important to us that we go out and play to the best of our abilities.”
Miscommunication on offense led to quick three-and-outs and made it tough on a defense that really struggled a season ago. Altoona allowed 46 points per game, the highest average by any team in the area.
“We can make some big strides defensively,” Manley said. “Our coaching staff has done a great job putting the right personnel in a position for us to succeed.”
The Mountain Lions will once again face a tough road, hosting Hollidaysburg and traveling to Williamsport before starting Mid-Penn play on the road at Central Dauphin East on Sept. 18.
“We play in a really good conference,” Nedimyer said. “Our kids know that they have to bring it every single week, and there’s no off week whether it’s Hollidaysburg, Williamsport or Harrisburg. It doesn’t matter who we play, we have to be prepared and at the top of our game every week.”
Nedimyer said the keys to getting the program turned around are simple but crucial.
“We need to be better tacklers, we need to secure the football on offense and just buy in to what the coaches are preaching,” Nedimyer said. “It all comes back to team play. We’re fortunate to have some really good players, but those kids are not going to be really good if not for the other kids. We talk about attitude and effort every day, because those are things we can control.”
Leaving Altoona with a solid legacy is critical to this year’s senior class, which will start the season learning from home due to ongoing construction at the Altoona Area High School buildings.
“It’s very important,” Manley said. “I want my class to be the team to get Altoona back on the map for high school football. We want to get some wins and finish in the top five of the Mid-Penn.”