Which one of the WPIAL’s hottest teams was left out of the 2018 playoffs?
If you answered “Laurel,” then pat yourself on the back.
After dealing with injuries and adversity in the early part of the season, the young Spartans came together in a big way and closed the regular season with four straight wins in which they outscored their foes, 194-73.
Nevertheless, it wasn’t enough to earn the squad a WPIAL playoff berth from the Big Seven Conference in a condensed eight-team Class A bracket.
That’s burned Laurel all offseason.
“We know where we have to finish and what we have to do. With only two teams from our conference (going to the playoffs last year), we’ll have to assume the same scenario this year. We have to control our destiny. We can’t be a second-half-of-the-season team. We have to be a whole-season team from the start,” Laurel coach Brian Cooper said. “It’s a tough league. Finishing in the top two is a difficult task. We know there’s no excuses. We’re working to be there at the end, so we can make sure what happened last year doesn’t happen this year.”
The Spartans are healthier this year, but injuries sustained during the first two games last season threw the team off track for a couple weeks.
“We had a lot of key injuries early and a lot of young kids had to step in and fill key positions. They showed at the end of the year where they were at. Where we are today feels like we are at the end of last season,” Cooper said. “The kids are working hard and looking good. I am excited.”
Will Shaffer is back to full health and will see time at quarterback and wide receiver. Dom Wade will see time under center as well after handling the QB duties last year.
“It could be one guy one series and another guy in the next. We’ll see,” Cooper said.
“We’ll take advantage of using both in different spots because they are capable of doing it.”
Dylan Aquaro, Kobe DeRosa, Josh Gibson, Jamie McVicker, Zach Maine and tight end Cam Caldararo will be the top receiving threats, along with Shaffer. However, Laurel’s ground attack features a pair of runners who enjoyed success last season in Daniel Blank and Luke McCoy. The duo combined for nearly 2,000 yards. Cameron Smith could get some carries as well.
“With the addition of getting Will back, I think that puts a lot of stress on defenses,” Cooper said.
“We’ll be a running team, though. That will be the base of our offense.”
On the offensive line, Alex Stanton returns from injury. He joins Rylan Collier and Mitch Miles as returning starters. Derreck Brest, Andy Harlan and Sam Arblaster will see time as well.
Parker Giddings, Stanton, Miles, Collier, Caldararo and Harlan will see time on the defensive line.
Wade returns at linebacker to pace the squad. Smith is at inside linebacker as well. McCoy, Maine, McVicker and Blank could see time at outside linebacker. Blank could shift to the secondary and join cornerbacks Gibson and DeRosa and safeties Logan Ayres, Aquaro and Shaffer.
“I think the biggest thing will be our secondary. The kids are more mature and have experience. After injuries last year, there were times where we had two ninth graders and a sophomore out there and teams in our league like to pass the ball,” Cooper said.
“We are working hard on tightening up that pass defense. With Will back and another year of those young guys getting stronger and more mature, I can already see a big difference.
“Overall, the kids are excited about the season and the opportunity they have.”