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D for Disappointment

There are not many 10-2 seasons that can be classified under ‘D’ -- for Disappointment – but 2017 was just that for the Stateliners.

“I think at the end of the year, we got ahead of ourselves,” senior linebacker and tri-captain Mark Zgoda said. “We didn’t take it day to day and we lost our focus and our concentration slipped off. This year, coach (Frank) Duffy is making sure we go day-to-day, play-by-play.”

No waste

Duffy is following a good role model in that respect.

“(Alabama coach) Nick Saban always you don’t want to waste a failure,” he said. “We have analyzed what’s appropriate from those two games and taken a positive approach – we’re making sure we don’t go through that situation again.”

The Stateliners are balancing between remembering and remembering too much.

“Last season is far behind us and we want to focus on what we are doing now,” senior lineman and tri-captain Matt Cherry said. “But we don’t want to forget how we felt when we didn’t get it done.”

Remember the feeling

There’s some motivation.

“We don’t ever want to feel that way again,” senior quarterback and tri-captain Jack Stagaard said.

Phillipsburg might not have to feel that way in 2018. The Stateliners return tested and talented skill position players who have been productive. The defense offers toughness, speed and experience.

And there’s those memories of how losing felt to drive Phillipsburg.

“I think our focus is completely different this season,” Stagaard said, “We are locked in and ready to go.”

Why Phillipsburg fans should be excited

Where to start? There’s no shortage of reasons for Stateliner fans to be pumped up. Start at quarterback where Stagaard threw for 1,902 yards and 15 TDs, completing 52.9 percent of his passes; senior quarterbacks are like gold to coaches for experience and leadership. Green was third in the lehighvalleylive region in rushing yards per game at 131 – he ran for 1,055 yards and 15 TDs in the equivalent of seven games. Imagine him over a full season. In Ray Poremba, Nasir Ball, Sterling Walker-Sutton and Ray Stem Stagaard will be able to target one of the very best receiving corps in the area. On defense, Phillipsburg starts with two top-shelf, play-making interior linebackers in senior Mark Zgoda and junior Bobby Coury who should terrorize defenses and challenge for all kinds of postseason hardware. “They are high-energy kids and they make a very good pair,” Duffy said. “Those guys run through every play. Without them we are a different team.” The secondary is experienced. The Stateliner kick return units could be explosive. There’s only three away games on the schedule.

Why Phillipsburg fans should be worried

Stateliner football is built on power and strength, and the source of that physicality starts on the lines – which are all new. The lines may take some time to gel. The team has had rotten luck with injuries the last two seasons (Stagaard in 2016, Green in 2017) and if that continues there could be problems. Teams with big and tall wide receivers – hello Easton – could give the speedy but smallish Phillipsburg secondary some problems. Any lingering mental issues from the 2017 end-of-season struggles have to be dispelled quickly. But there’s not really a long list of concerns – this should be a pretty solid outfit.

Position battles

Phillipsburg is in a somewhat unusual position of its backfields being almost all tested veterans with its lines almost totally new, so sorting that out has been critical. There’s no shortage of talent and big, strong players who want to make their mark. That’s where the coaches have to make some tough calls. “We have to make sure we have the right guys out there,” Duffy said. At tight end, where the graduated Sean Morro left a big gap, senior Walker-Sutton steps in from running back and wide receiver.

Training camp emphasis

One word. “Just finishing overall,” Duffy said. “Based on last season, we started strong but did not finish the way we wanted. We want to finish – finish tackles, finish plays, finish practices, finish the season strong. That’s been our big emphasis.”

Coach Frank Duffy on ball security

“Our turnover margin in 2017 was very high until the last two games, then we made some uncharacteristic mistakes. We have been stressing ball security.”

Senior OL/DL Matt Cherry on the ties that bind

“I have been playing with Jack Staagard at Lopatcong football since I was 6 and blocking for him ever since. When Jack is locked on he’s really good on the field, but he’s a goofball off the field. We all grew up together and we have been around each other ever since kindergarten, me and Jack and (center) Christopher Gurneak, we’ve done it all together. We’ve always played next to each other and we have stayed the same up to now.”

Returning starters

Sr. WR/CB/KR Nasir Ball, Sr. QB Jack Staagard, Sr. TE/CB/KR Sterling Walker-Sutton (started at WR/RB last year) , Sr. RB Joe Green, Sr. T Jeff Vitale (started at FB last year), Sr. ILB Mark Zgoda, Jr. ILB Bobby Coury, Jr. S Tommy Coury, Jr. WR Ray Poremba

Key returnees

Sr. OL/DL Matt Cherry, Sr. C/DL Christopher Gurneak, Sr. WR Ray Stem, Sr. OL/DL Ryan Fisher, Jr. LB Isaiah Craighead, Sr. OL/DL Chase Rivera, Jr. OL/DL Tony Rivera

Top newcomers

Sr. OL/DL Luke Evers, Sr. DE Joe Kowalchuk, Sr. OL/DL Kyle Sofhauser, Sr. DE Kyree Wallace, Jr. P/K Mike Gomez, Jr. RB/LB Robbie Martin, Jr. LB/RB Robert Sutton, So. RB Matt Quetel

Phillipsburg basics

Conference/division: Mid-State 38, Delaware Division

Classification: North Group 4

Nickname: Stateliners

Coach, record: Frank Duffy (3rd season, 15-7)

2017 record: 10-2, 5-0 Delaware Division

Home: Bellis Field at Maloney Stadium

Brad Wilson may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @bradwsports. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.

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