The topic came up as Mike Murphy and his assistant coaches discussed the state of the Haverford School football team a few days before preseason practice.
Of course it did.
It’s difficult to ignore the holes left by four key players, especially when three of those players went on to Division I-AA schools.
But filling the voids left by quarterback Dan Judge, tailback Terance Fitzsimmons, center/linebacker Kevin Eberly and safety Chris Ambrogi is the exact task dealt to Murphy.
There aren’t many schools that can replace four such players, but Murphy feels confident Haverford not only has the depth to find adequate replacements, but also compete for its first Inter-Academic League championship since 1971.
“Our No. 1 goal is always to win every week,” Murphy said. “Our 1-A goal is to win the Inter-Ac championship.”
A big factor in both of those goals will be how well quarterback Matt Lengel fills the shoes left by Judge, who left for Richmond.
“There’s a comfort level there when your quarterback starts 31 games,” Murphy said. “He knew what I was thinking and I knew what he was thinking and how he was going to react to different situations.”
Like any replacement, Lengel is an unknown, but Murphy is confident the senior can control the offense.
“He needs to learn how to manage the game,” Murphy said. “He doesn’t have to win games for us. There’s enough talent around him if he puts the ball in their hands.”
Lengel said he already recognizes that, especially when he scans his receivers and sees seniors A.J. Jones and Joe Nassib.
“You definitely respect what Dan Judge did, but I’m confident I can help this team win games,” Lengel said. “I think it’s a lot easier because you have a great team around me. It’s not all on me.”
Without Judge, the Fords’ offensive attack will feature less option plays and more power rushing, Murphy said. He expects junior Carl Walrath to get the bulk of the carries. Walrath rushed for nearly six yards per carry last season, in limited action.
The Fords have an experienced line to plow the way for Walrath and fullback Wyatt Benson, who verbally committed to Temple. Senior Max Silver said the switch to power rushing better suits the offensive line, which returns four seniors.
“We can get down and dirty and run plays into the ground,” Silver said.
The key newcomer there is center Chris DiBello, the only sophomore expected to start for the Fords. DiBello replaces Shomari Watts, a three-year starter who left for Rhode Island.
For Murphy, it’s a sign of progress that he only needs to start one sophomore. Just two seasons ago, the Fords were littered with sophomore starters, as Murphy rebuilt the program.
“There’s a big difference between a physically-mature senior versus a sophomore,” Murphy said.
Not only that, but the Fords don’t have many positions up for grabs. Murphy’s really only waiting to see who will emerge as Watts’ replacement at linebacker. The position is an open competition between Dan Oakley, Joe McCallion and Stephen Aitken.
Murphy expects the defensive line to be the unit’s strength. To accommodate the skills of defensive ends Robert Boyle and Sam Shea, the Fords are switching to four down-linemen instead of the three they utilized last year.
The defense’s glue is Benson, a three-year starter who provides the Fords an imposing figure at linebacker.
“He’s got a great motor,” Murphy said. “He’s one of those guys who’s always on the move. He’s a high-intensity kid and he’s strong. Overall, (he’s) the strongest kid on our team.”
Given much of his team has at least two years experience starting, Murphy thinks it can improve upon its 7-3 record and compete with the likes of Malvern Prep and Chestnut Hill in what he deemed a more balanced league.
FORDS AT A GLANCE:
n 2008 RECORD: 7-3 (3-2, Inter-Ac League)
n HEAD COACH: Michael Murphy (Fifth season: 15-27).
n STAFF: Matt Conboy, Zack Mills, Jay Wright, Tom Trocano, Brian Marti, Joe Nassib, Isaac Bailey, Don Richardson, Jamie Creed, Steve Venutti, Nick Windell.
n KEY RETURNEES: Wyatt Benson (FB-MLB) 6-1, 220; A.J. Jones (WR-FS) 6-3, 205; Joe Nassib (WR-DB) 5-9, 160; Joe McCarthy (TE) 6-0, 200; Max Silver (G) 6-4, 275; Carl Walrath (RB-DB) 5-11, 180; Billy Annesley (WR) 5-11, 180; Nick Pension (G) 5-10, 235; Robert Boyle (OL-DE) 6-4, 235; Sam Shea (DE) 6-0, 200; Matt Lengel (QB) 6-4, 215; Kieran Avis (DL) 5-11, 210; Andrew Herm (LB) 5-10, 160; Brendan McGrath (WR-CB) 6-1, 185.
n TOP NEWCOMERS: Chris DiBello (C) 5-10, 220.
n OUTLOOK: The Fords return a large number of experienced players, but need to replace four players that left for collegiate ball, including three Division I players. They expect to be in the hunt for the league title.
n NOTABLE: Speaking of Inter-AC titles, the Fords own 19 championships, but No. 20 has proven to be quite elusive. The Fords haven’t won the league since 1971.
Haverford School 46, Radnor 21
Cardinal O’Hara 7, Haverford School 0
Haverford School 35, Sun Valley 12
Haverford School 46, Peddie School 15
Haverford School 19, Monsignor Bonner 0
Haverford School 32, Penn Charter 22
Malvern Prep 43, Haverford School 0
Chestnut Hill 31, Haverford School 6
Haverford School 12, German Academy 0
Haverford School 6, Episcopal 0