A 12-2 season and a trip to the PIAA Class AAA semifinals may seem like just another great season in what has been a generation of domination for coach Terry Verrelli and the Wilmington High Greyhounds football team.
What made 2000 unique was that the Greyhounds went through much of the season considered an underdog to rival Greenville until the 'Hounds dropped the hammer on the Trojans to win the District 10-AAA championship, 16-7.
The gutty, character victory served as a model for the rest of the season, and for the team that captured almost all of the local attention in the postseason.
With that, the coming of the new season means that Wilmington hopes to ride a different kind of momentum as the team rebuilds after losing 12 seniors to graduation, many at key positions.
Verrelli's squad first must cope with the loss of starting quarterback Matt Coad, who last season guided the Greyhounds' running-intensive offense by mixing in 46 complete passes in 100 attempts for 754 yards and 5 touchdowns, making him the fifth-best passer in the Herald coverage area.
"Matt did a great job for us," Verrelli said. He will use both sophomore Tim Hughes and junior Nick Sheehan as his replacement.
"They both have some experience," Verrelli said. "They improved just from the first scrimmage to the second. They both have something to offer me right now, and I'm going to use them both. They're different, but they're similar in ways, too," Verrelli said. "Nick's a little older and maybe a little more confident. Tim probably has more size, and possibly a stronger arm."
The focal point of the Wilmington offense, as usual, will be the running backs and, fortunately for the 'Hounds, that position is solidified. Returning to take the majority of the hand-offs this season is lightning-fast senior Brandon "Boomer" Whiting, who amassed 1,497 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns in 2000, an average of 115.2 per game.
"Whiting was our key back all last year," Verrelli said. "We start with him and build around him."
Verrelli said he moved Matt Krawchyk from split end to slot back to add another dimension to the offense. "He'll help us with quickness and speed," he said.
Junior Brandon Boron will take the fullback position. Brian Baer, who had some work at split end in 2000, also may garner some carries along with Craig Copper and Mark McGinnis, who Verrelli said will alternate in and out.
Wilmington will be without graduated back Jonathan Hall, who rang up 818 yards on the ground (62.9). Together, the duo of Hall and Whiting led Wilmington to the area's third-best scoring offense (34.5 ppg.).
The biggest vacancy left by graduation is on the offensive and defensive lines, according to Verrelli. Tackles Clayton Gruber and Jeremy Lewis are both back, although Gruber will move to center. Pat Buckley has stepped in to fill a void at tackle, while Brad Sherrod and Mike Telesz are the starting guards. Joel Boyle returns to start at tight end.
"He was a back last year and has gained weight and height," Verrelli said. "He's new there, but he has really come along."
Baer leads an inexperienced crop of receivers. "After him, we'll be a little light there as far as experience goes," Verrelli admitted, but added that Hughes and Sheehan are both capable receivers, and the two will likely rotate when not under center. And despite his new role in the slot, Krawchyk also will see some time at receiver, Verrelli said.
The entire Wilmington front four on defense will be different from 2000, with Buckley, Lewis, Gruber and Telesz taking over.
Wilmington touted the second-best defense in the region last season, allowing a minute 7.2 points per game.
The linebackers, according to Verrelli, are basically the same with Parker Maynard leading the returnees. Baer has been added to fill in the only vacancy. And the 'Hounds once again will be speedy in the secondary, led by Whiting at corner, one of three returning defensive backs. Krawchyk and Copper will hold down the safety spots, along with McGinnis.
Hughes and Sheehan also will see time in the secondary when not taking snaps, Verrelli said. Although the experience level has fallen drastically for the Greyhounds since last year, Verrelli remains confident that his team's success will continue to carry over, as usual.
"Last year was a very rewarding year," he said. "To see an entirely new team step in there and not only have some success, but to evolve at the level they did, was unbelievable. When you don't have that game experience it usually catches up to you. But they work their way up the system, even if they don't start.
"They know what it takes to win, and they believe they can do it," Verrelli said. "I think that it carries over every year. There has to be something when you're successful every year and these younger kids see it. They see the work that goes into it. That's obviously part of our success."
Another playoff run in 2000 only added to that trend, and Verrelli said he hopes his team rides the experience of being in the state playoffs.
Verrelli (155-85-3) will be assisted this season by David Welch, Bob Mitcheltree, Tim Nan, Patrick Anderson, Butch Edwards and former standout Jason Lane.