SULLIVAN TWP. — Just give him the ball. Sometimes it’s just that simple.
Andrew Vaughn has accomplished a lot in his three seasons with Black River, including rushing for 3,461 yards and 43 touchdowns over his last two seasons as the team’s primary back.
The Pirates won’t tweak a formula that’s produced a 15-7 record over that same span — including a Division IV playoff victory in 2011 and a PAC Stars Division championship in 2012.
Being a senior, Vaughn knows his value to the team goes beyond game day.
“I’m focused on being a better leader,” said Vaughn, who looks to add to his school rushing record of 3,743.
“I’ve seen some great leaders come through while I’ve been here at Black River and I’ve seen some bad leaders come through. The one thing I know is you can’t do anything without great leadership. That’s one thing I take pride in.”
Vaughn is one of eight returning starters on offense. Paving the way for him will be a seasoned offensive line highlighted by Gabe Eaton and Jeremy Wiggins. Eaton was the PAC’s lineman of the year last season and Wiggins was a first-team PAC Stars guard.
There are also high hopes for 200-pound sophomore fullback David Bell, who had a number a solid games as a freshman. He rushed for 95 yards and a touchdown against Brookside and 130 yards and two touchdowns against Fairview.
“David is a great player and a good kid,” Vaughn said. “We always do offensive individual drills and I’m paired up with him at running back. He never takes a day off and is always trying to learn what he can do to get better.”
While the Pirates lost three-year starter Dakota Kuntz to graduation, coach Al Young is confident in his replacement, Vern Beard. Young said that despite having some big shoes to fill, the sophomore has big future ahead of him.
“Offensively, I think we’re going to be pretty good,” Young said. “We’ve got a lot of big holes to replace defensively. I think that’s going to be a big key for us as to how fast we can do that. I like the fact that we have a lot of experienced players and our numbers are good as a whole. But you can’t replace experience.”
The Pirates lost six players on the defensive side, including first-team All-PAC Stars selections in Ted Bowersock at linebacker, Cody Elsten at defensive back and Jake Maund on the line. But Wiggins — who also plays on the defensive line — is confident younger guys will step into their roles.
“I think we look 10 times better than what we did at the beginning of last year,” Wiggins said. “It’s a lot easier for us this year with the way they’ve made the plays and the calls. We’re looking a lot better than we did last year already. We just have to keep improving off of that and we should be pretty good defensively.”
There will be no tune-up game for the Pirates, four of their first five opponents qualified for the playoffs in their respective regions. Black River went 0-3 in the nonconference last year against the same slate of opponents — Western Reserve, Northwestern and Manchester. Black River only lost by two points to Western Reserve, but Northwestern and Manchester combined to outscore the Pirates 79-21.
The Pirates also gain a new crossover opponent in Week 5 when they travel to Clearview.
Young doesn’t expect the road will get too much easier as the Pirates move to Stars Division play.
“I think the conference is going to be pretty good this year,” Young said. “I think everyone in the league is going to be better. I think Wellington is going to be good, I think Keystone is going to be good. I think it’s going to be a very hard-fought season in the conference.”
Contact Chris Sweeney at 329-7135 or email@example.com.
Black River Pirates
CONFERENCE: Patriot Athletic Conference, Stars Division
2012 RECORD: 6-4, 6-1
COACH: Al Young, 24th year (158-83)
RETURNING LETTERMEN: 15
RETURNING STARTERS: 13
FAST FACT: Senior running back Andrew Vaughn has a chnace to rush for more than 1,500 yards for a third straight season.
Aug. 30 Western Reserve
Sept. 6 Monroeville
Sept. 13 at Manchester
Sept. 20 Lutheran West*
Sept. 27 at Clearview*
Oct. 4 Wellington*
Oct. 11 at Buckeye*
Oct. 18 at Firelands*
Oct. 25 Brookside*
Nov. 1 at Keystone*
All games at 7 p.m.
* Patriot Athletic Conference game