When Jim Wildman takes the Sharon High football team onto the Tiger Stadium turf tomorrow night against Cornell, all you need to know about him and his pride in the program can be summarized thusly:
"My blood runs 'orange,' but I try not to wear it on my chest,'' said Wildman, whose next win will be his 200th at the helm in this, his silver anniversary season at Sharon.
Wildman (199-74-6) has led Tigers' teams to 13 league and eight District 10 championships and seven PIAA playoff appearances, two of which ended in Final Four berths and two others that ended in AAA title tilt losses to perennial power Berwick.
So although a trio of NCAA Division I recruits and numerous talented teammates graduated from last season's 12-2 Class AA Final Four contingent, the Tigers' tradition should continue unabated.
"Around here, we put these (tiger) paws up on the wall. It may sound like rhetoric, but I think every class, when they're a senior especially or a junior who's moved up, wants that (legacy). ... That 2000 paw will go up here, and (this year's seniors) want to be remembered somehow, too. And if their paw's not on the wall, they're not a team to be remembered.''
Spearheading Sharon's seniors will be signal-caller Mike Schneider, another D-I prospect who spent his summer honing his skills in venues such as South Bend, Ind., Ann Arbor, Mich., and various other camps. Schneider connected on 88 of 158 attempts for 1,523 yards and 17 touchdowns while being intercepted on only a handful of occasions last year. He will be surrounded by a senior nucleus that includes linemen Wade Vogan, Jim Morocco, Ryan Rodemoyer and Jeremy Jewell and fullback Justin Schweiss.
"Many of them have started 27 football games. Some guys don't start 27 in a career,'' Wildman noted, "so I think the strength of our team will be tackle to tackle.''
The latest in the Tigers' tradition of talented tailbacks will be Marcus Smith, who caddied for prolific Carmone Parchman the past two seasons.
With gifted graduates Marlin Jackson (Michigan) and Terrance Phillips (Penn State) having moved on, Schneider's targets will include an untested, yet " ... excellent group of kids working at wide receiver and in the secondary who have worked really hard and I think they've improved since the end of June or first of July when we started working pretty hard at it,'' Wildman assessed.
Sharon's staff tinkered with moving Vogan to tight end.
"We we're going to take our best offensive lineman and make him a tight end because he can catch the ball. But realistically, how many times is he gonna catch the ball?'' Wildman rhetorically asked. "So instead of putting (Vogan at tight end and moving) another kid at tackle, we've made Leroy Taylor and Dan Tomko, two kids who lettered last year as sophomores, the tight end and kept Wade at tackle.''
Through 13 games, Sharon permitted only 6.5 points and 146.2 yards per game before a season-ending setback to Aliquippa in the western regional finale. So veteran defensive coordinator Mike Donato will rely on a linebacking corps that includes Vogan, Schweiss and Tomko.
"We will be inexperienced up front but, again, we have some good kids there who played behind good kids last year, so it's not a whole new learning process for them,'' Wildman reasoned, adding, "and secondary-wise, only one starter, Smith/John Reay shared time as a rover, and both corners and free safety are gone. But, again, a lot of those kids are receivers, so it's the same type of kid. We have some good athletes who have worked hard, they're some smart kids there. I think we'll be all right.
"I think by the middle of the year we'll have an idea of what kind of team we're gonna have. I think in any year, you have to get some breaks and you have to stay healthy,'' Wildman offered.
Sharon's prolific program appears poised to reload, not rebuild.
"I think that we've been fortunate enough over the last couple decades that we've been able to do that,'' Wildman began. "Maybe coaching has something to do with that, but certainly the quality of kid that we're getting, the type of athlete and the work-ethic that we're getting, has been an advantage to us. I think that the unique thing here is, when you talk about (Terrance) Phillips, (Marlin) Jackson, (Carmone) Parchman, (Kevin) Harris, James Barnett, Sam Faylo, Jason Fromm, those kinds of kids, this group of kids has a different type of personality. There is a chemistry, but it's a different chemistry, it's more of a business approach type, whereas the past couple years there were some personalities there, some kids who wanted to have fun playing in a different way.
"These kids want to have fun, but I think, again, when you have expectations to live up to, and I think the type of kid we have, especially in our senior class, will be the type of kid who will lead the others.
"We put that 2000 paw in the meeting room, laying it on the table so (this season's seniors) they can see it every day, and we have the banners in there and that kind of thing which is a constant reminder, whether it's real evident or very subtle. But they want to be remembered, too. They want somebody to paint apostrophe 01 on that wall, too.''
Wildman will be assisted by Bill Sham, Donato, Dan Schneider, John Baldinelli, Bo Reichert, Ken Smith, Chris McComb, Bob Fromm, Jeff Krecek and John Vannoy.
"It's a great group of guys that I work with. Some are young and some have been with me for a long time,'' Wildman praised, quipping as 2-a-days ended, "With the month of July I had, vacation-wise, these two weeks (mid-August 2-a-days) have become my vacation, my therapy.''