WILKES-BARRE, Pa. — The King’s College football team is coming off its best season in seven years.
With many of the key pieces returning to the 2014 edition of the Monarchs, it would be easy for King’s to be confident and looking for a more productive season.
Sure there are plenty of reasons for the squad to be excited when the campaign gets under way as the team ended last season winning six of its last seven games, but coach Jeff Knarr is making sure his team doesn’t get too comfortable and expect other teams to roll over, especially in the highly competitive Middle Atlantic Conference.
|2||Delaware Valley (1)||68|
|3||Lebanon Valley (4)||65|
“We’re definitely not overconfident or overlooking anybody, it’s still a process,” Knarr said. “We’re just trying to build on that and get better.”
With a 6-4 season a year ago, the Monarchs entered Week 9 with the possibility of claiming at least a share of the conference title for the first time since 2002 and tallied the most wins the program has seen since winning six in 2006.
It’s something the current team may have envisioned at some point, but didn’t start to put together until last season. In previous seasons, the Monarchs have come close many times before falling short. Last year, they were close with teams late and pulled out those wins. They had two overtime wins and last-second victories against Lycoming and Wilkes.
“Once our kids got a taste of winning, and in the dramatic finish that they had, they understood that the game is 60 minutes,” Knarr said. “And we kept playing and playing and playing and didn’t go away. And, we didn’t make those fatalistic mistakes.”
If the Monarchs are going to continue their success from last season, the offensive unit is going to play a huge part like last year.
Senior wide receiver Dan Kempa has always been a force for King’s, compiling more than 1,700 yards in his previous three seasons, including leading the MAC in yards last season with 1,057. Kempa, a preseason All-American, set two school records last season with his receiving yards and 58 receptions en route to being selected to the All-MAC first team. He’s joined on offense by two-year starting quarterback Tyler Hartranft. Now a senior, Hartranft is just 47 completions away from setting the career mark at King’s. He’s also just 385 yards short of the school’s all-time passing yards mark of 4,322.
King’s WR Dan Kempa Named First-Team USA College Football Pre-Season All-American http://t.co/2q82ZU920l
— King’s PA Athletics (@Kings_Monarchs) July 2, 2014
Don’t forget about senior tailback Kyle McGrath, who battled through injuries last season, but still gutted out 655 yards on the ground and 214 through the air totaling 10 touchdowns.
The offensive trio is one of the best, if not the best the conference has to offer.
“If those three can help us be on the field, move drives and put points on the board it’s going to take pressure of our D-line, which is probably the youngest and most inexperienced going into the season,” Knarr said.
Backing up McGrath is Pat Robinson, who saw significant playing time last season and piled up more than 400 yards of total offense.
Perhaps the biggest secondary role on the offense belongs to the No. 2 and No. 3 receiver. Vince Albano is currently the No. 2 receiver, while tight end Jay Thomas could also help take teams away from focusing on Kempa.
“That’s been a big part of camp as we find that complimentary receiver whether it’s an extra running back, a tight end or a wideout to continue to spread the ball around,” Knarr said. “So if you wanna take somebody away from our offense you got these weapons to go to.”
There’s a big piece to replace on the defense, which allowed 31.0 points per game last season, as defensive end Ron Garrett, who was one of the top players in the nation — he scored five defensive touchdowns, had 4.5 sacks, four fumble recoveries and 12 tackles for a loss — was lost to graduation. He’s left big shoes to fill on the defensive line as senior Joe Cole and junior Gary Poulson will see significant action for the first time and will be joined by returning starter Pete Santorelli.
“It’s gonna be more of a D-line where last year we didn’t have as big of a rotation because Ronnie could play the whole game and do the things that he did,” Knarr said. “This year, it’s going to be more by committee.”
If the line has some growing pains, once opposing runners get to the linebacker core, they’re looking for trouble. Returning starter Nick Kaijala, who led the team last season with 78 tackles, 12 for a loss and 6.5 sacks, is a good place to start. Sophomore Bob Russell got one start last season and still picked up 23 tackles and an interception.
Six teams in the MAC were within one loss of getting at least a share of the league title. This season doesn’t look to be much different as the Monarchs were picked sixth in the preseason poll.
The 2013 King’s season was not a fluke. Even though there may have been some lucky bounces going their way, there were plenty that went the opposite way, as well. There’s enough talent on this team to make a serious run at the conference championship and qualify for the postseason for the first time since 2006.