With committed off-season training and coming off a 9-2 record season, the Pusch Ridge Lions football squad is ready to get this season started with 14 seniors leading the way.
Last year, the Lions only regular season loss was to Joy Christian, who ended up finishing with a 10-2 record after losing by one in the quarterfinals to Thatcher. Pusch Ridge also made its way to the quarterfinals with the leadership of some of its top seniors, Ryan Reilly, Cameron Dwan and Aaron Borane, but came up short to Arizona Lutheran Academy (11-2).
The Lions will head into this season without Dwan and Borane who gave a big presence on the offensive and defensive line last season. Head coach Troy Cropp has yet to determine who will fill the spots for this year, but believes that the hard work that was given in the off-season training will pay off for his players.
“These kids are stronger and faster than last year. A lot of them committed to the off-season program and understand better how the offense and defense works,” said Cropp.
Senior Taylor Fitzgerald, who ran 1,334 yards and brought in 18 touchdowns last year, is expected to be a valuable asset to the Lions offense this season. Other players expected to help out the Lions, are senior Mitch Reilly who had the most tackles last season, and junior Ben Walker, who received 11 touchdown passes.
“Those guys put up some good numbers, but we have a few other seniors who will bring a lot to the program this year,” said Cropp. “Tyler Overstreet is a totally unsung guy who is the fastest guy on our team and one of our hardest workers. Matthew Weiss and Jason Hout worked off season and will impact the team in a big way.”
Senior leadership is not lacking and neither is some of the young talent coming from the new freshman class. Players such as quarterback Christian Fetsis and running backs Dakota Haynes and Matthew McLeod are expected to play varsity minutes this season. Cropp sees potential for his Pusch Ridge team, but is aware that reality will hit once the Lions play their first game.
With six new head coaches in the Division V section, Cropp is emphasizing even more to his players the importance of being mentally and physically prepared for every game.
“I think a weakness for our team right now is how much grit do these guys have when it gets tough,” said Cropp. “The goal this year is for these guys to mature into Godly men and push them. I want to give them every chance to be successful at the highest level. We need to make that step and get up against those good teams.”
The Lions will waste no time in having the theory tested. Their first home game will be against one of their top rivals from last season, Joy Christian on Friday, Sept. 5 at 7 p.m.