Aug. 26—JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — Just as preseason camp opened last summer, the Conemaugh Valley and Ferndale football programs entered a co-op agreement approved by both District 6 and the PIAA during August meetings.
While talk of a potential co-op had circulated throughout the summer, the swiftness of the final details perhaps caught the teams by surprise.
“I think we learned a lot last year,” Conemaugh Valley coach Matt Kent said of a 4-2 season that included a playoff appearance during the COVID-19 interrupted schedule. “Last year, the Ferndale kids came up right during heat acclimation week. It was like a shock to us when they got there.
“We had to re-do everything we already had done. We didn’t have a summer with them so we had to teach them as camp went on, and what you called camp (in 2020) wasn’t really a camp. This year we’ve had them all summer, so that made a big difference.
“Now they know everything and what we’re doing. Everything is on pace.”
The Blue Jays, with an influx of Yellow Jackets, enjoyed success despite one regular-season game being canceled due to a COVID-19 situation and a late-season date at Windber being a no-contest due to another pandemic-related situation.
Conemaugh Valley advanced to the District 6 Class 1A playoffs, falling 41-0 to PIAA power Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic.
Conemaugh Valley returns six starters on offense and will rely on the double tight, double-wing set.
Defensively, six starters also are back in the 4-4 formation.
Senior skill players — such as Logan Kent, who carried 111 times for 927 yards and nine scores, and Nick Heltzel, who rushed for 466 yards and five TDs — bring experience. But the Blue Jays will need the line to continue to develop.
“We lost a lot of big guys, but we’ve got a lot young guys coming up who are always in the weight room,” Logan Kent said.
Coach Kent is hoping the hard work pays dividends.
“We had to build on our line,” Matt Kent said. “We graduated some of our bigger linemen. This year we’ve got a little bit smaller line, but I think more athletic. I think we might be actually better up front than we were last year because of the athleticism.
“Real good in the weight room, a good turnout all summer long,” he said. “Our weakness will be replacing the linemen up front and making sure we’re stout up there with the offense we run.”
Defensively, the Blue Jays will count on senior Bruce Moore, who had 44 tackles and four sacks last season. Logan Kent had 44 stops, and junior Matt Jasper had 40 tackles last fall.
“We learned you can’t play scared,” senior Noah Heltzel said. “You’ve got to work together and communicate.
“Size usually doesn’t matter for the smaller guys. You learn to never give up, especially after sophomore year, all the forfeits (due to a lack of healthy players in 2019). You never give up and play through everything.”
The addition of the Ferndale players certainly has made a difference in terms of both talent and depth.
“Definitely teamwork, and coming together,” Logan Kent said of the lessons learned in 2020. “We never really had that teamwork and trust in our team. We have that trust. We should be good.”