Last season, Tunkhannock Area High School football was challenged.
They had a new head coach, with no varsity experience.
They won six games, combined, in the previous four seasons.
But that was in the past.
Now, with a year under his belt, Mike Marabell is taking a different approach.
“As a coach, I see last year as a learning experience. I made a lot of mistakes, and did a lot of things wrong,” said Marabell. “I thought I could bring some of the things that worked at the junior high level up to varsity and make it work. It didn’t. But, I learned quickly to adapt.”
The expectations for this group of Tigers is high this season. Coming off of a 3- win season, Marabell thinks, “This team has what it takes to turn this thing in the right direction. We are looking at going over .500 and making the playoffs.”
Junior tight end/ defensive end Jhamal Zacharias agreed that this group of players has a special bond, saying,“Our attitude has changed. We are working harder, and that will take the team further. We have all been through so much together, since freshman year, these guys are special to me. We are together off and on the field.”
With 10 seniors on the team, eight of whom have been with the program all four years, Marabell knows changing the culture is a hard-pressed task. He has confidence in this combination of players.
“We are installing a new offense, and a new defense, taking a lot of reps in practices,” he explained. “But one of the biggest things is working on the team’s football IQ on the field, making the guys smarter players.”
Also, Marabell and his staff are challenging the players’ need to play for the name on the front of their jersey, to play for each other.
That seems to have sunk in. Last Friday, (Aug. 16) at Media Day, some photos were being taken of siblings on the team. Coach Marabell called for all brothers to get in the line. Zacharias proclaimed, “But coach, we’re all brothers here.”
Zacharias added, “I think the staff is a lot smarter and the players are a lot more driven. We definitly worked harder this offseason than we ever have.”
Also challenging the Tigers this year is their youth on the sidelines.
“Our age helps us and hinders us,” offered Marabell. “On one hand, we have a lot of kids with varsity experience. On the other, we have a bunch of kids trying out new positions, which they are open to if it helps us win games.”
Tunkhannock graduated six seniors last season, and the loss of Tyler Peterson will be felt.
“Tyler has returned to our program, though, as an assistant coach. He wants to give back to the game that has given so much to him,” said Marabell.
Peterson is a freshman at Penn State Wilkes Barre, studying to be a large animal veterinarian.
With 18 starters returning, and 25 players with varsity experience, Marabell is afforded the luxury of having a team built for the long haul.
He said that with the number of younger athletes on his team, the same game plan can be expected this season as well.
He noted that does not take anything away from the senior leadership expected from Jake Frisco, Alec Seboe, Brett Sickler, and Gavin D’Amato- who all lead by a special combination of example and verbal actions.
Marabell said, “We have freshmen- Garrett Yuhas, Ben Chilson, and Colin Madan- who are up and coming this season. Some sophomores- Nick Marabell, Matt Prebola, and Tyrese Konen- will also make some noise. Those are names the fans will hear about this season.”
The team has also accepted the challenge, head on, of learning that the hard work put into the season is what they will get out of it.
Marabell called this life changing, explaining that he looks forward to seeing his charges as young men.
“The wins and losses will work themselves out,” he said. “I want to have a relationship with them, and make a difference in their lives. It’s about mutual respect and being able to shake hands after the playing days are over.”
On the schedule, Marabell cites two games of note. The game in week five against Towanda,which is also Military Appreciation Night, is shaping up to be an “Orange and Black Rivalry Game” with the possibility of a trophy going between the two schools in the near future.
The final week of the season sees the Tigers heading to Midd-West, two hours and 35 minutes away.
“We owe them, we let that game slip away from us,” grumbled Marabell. “Trust me, that one is marked on our calendar.”
“We are challenging the community, too,” explained Marabell. “We want them to be a part of the change in our program. Tunkhannock has always been incredible supporters of the teams, and now we need the stands full. The kids have accepted the challenge, so let’s back them up.”
Zacharias summed it all up, saying, “In the past, Tunkhannock hasn’t had many winning teams. Moving forward, we want to win. This team has something special, we want everyone to see that this team will try to turn the organization around, we want to show the community what we can do.”
The Tigers open their season at home on Friday against Dallas.
Roster: Seniors Tyler Chesla, Alex Dailey, Brett Sickler, Alex Smith, Jake Frisco, Evan Sackmann, Jaxson Montross, Alec Seboe, Alec Walter, and Gavin D’Amato. Juniors Sean Meder, Nathan Lord, Andrew Slusark, Colin Porasky, Jack Chilson, Jhamal Zacharias, Ryan Simmons, Shane Wood, and Connor Elgin. Sophomores Jeffrey Meader, Jaden Kozlowski, Stephen Burd, Tyrese Konen, Mason Roccograndi, Chase Barker, Matthew Prebola, Jacob Davenport, Jake Baltrusaitis, Michael Sickler, Devon Anderson, Seth Reimiller, Justin Strohl, and Nick Marabell. Freshmen Connor Chesner, Gavin Montross, Garrett Yuhas, Colin Madan, Ben Chilson, and Eddie Dziak.
Schedule: Aug. 23 vs. Dallas; Aug. 30 at Nanticoke Area; Sept. 6 vs. Pittston Area; Sept. 13 at Honesdale; Sept. 20 at Wyoming Area; Sept. 27 vs. Towanda; Oct. 4 vs. Crestwood; Oct. 11 vs. North Pocono; Oct. 18 vs. Mid Valley; Oct. 25 at Midd-West.
All games start with a 7 p.m. kickoff.