Big shoes to fill around the area at 2023 season opens

Aug. 25—There are two signs of renewal in Central Pennsylvania.

The beginning of spring planting and opening night of high school football always bring a sense of newness to the area.

So as Week one of the high school football season opens, it also means we will soon learn new names in line to replace the best players in the area. In 2023, it seems even more acute.

All-staters and four-year starters are gone at every level of offense and defense. Almost every team in the area was hit hard by graduation, or even injuries before the first snap of the season, so we'll take a look at players who have some big shoes to fill this season:

Chad Martin, QB, Mifflinburg, so.

This wasn't supposed to happen quite yet. Mifflinburg senior Troy Dressler was already the school's all-time leading pass with one more season to play, but that was put in jeopardy when the Wake Forest-commit was injured on the pitching mound in the spring.

Martin was outstanding in limited time — very limited time. He threw only nine passes, but the potential dripped from every throw. He averaged 35.5 yards per completion and threw three touchdowns in six completions.

Of course, there are small-sample size caveats, and Martin will be going both ways — he's an outstanding linebacker as well.

Xzavier Croll, DL, Mifflinburg, so.

Croll is the lone returning lineman for the Wildcats, and he might have four shoes to fill so to speak.

Emmanuel Ulrich's pedigree as a wrestler is well-known, and he's at American University for his talent on the mat. But Ulrich and Lucas Whittaker have been anchors on the Wildcats' defensive front since their sophomore seasons.

Mifflinburg's football resurgence over the four years is directly tied to the play of those two players on the line, and replacing that talent and four years of knowledge might be tougher to replace for the Wildcats than Troy Dressler under center, believe it or not.

Madden Patrick, QB, Danville, Jr.

This transition might be the most seamless one on the list, but it also gives us a chance to talk about Zach Gordon's season in 2022 one last time as well.

Patrick threw for 1,357 yards with 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions as a freshman when Gordon got hurt in the fourth game of 2021. That experience will come in handy now that Danville is looking for a fourth-straight District 4 Class 3A championship under new coach Carl Majer.

Gordon will be tough to replace, though, and put together a remarkable season in his final year of competitive sports. Gordon completed 70.7 percent of his passes for 2,279 yards with 34 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He picked off more passes as a safety (four) than he threw.

Aaron Johnson, WR, Danville, Sr.

Carson Persing left Danville with all of its receiving records — top five in the state all-time, and No. 2 in District 4.

Johnson has been a do-everything type of player for the Ironmen and needs just 96 yards rushing this season to become the first Danville player with 1,000 career yards rushing and receiving.

So he's got the ability, it's just a matter of Johnson adjusting to his new role as the go-to guy in Danville's spread offense.

Carter Madden, RB, Southern Columbia, Sr.

Louden Murphy, RB, Southern Columbia, Sr.

Garrett Garcia, FB, Southern Columba, Sr.

There were several reasons the Tigers bounced back from a three-loss regular season to win a sixth-straight Class 2A state championship. One of those reasons was the play of its healthy backfield — Wes Barnes at fullback and Braeden Wisloski at halfback.

Both provided big play after big play throughout their careers, now the trio above has to replace that.

Madden and Murphy split time at halfback last season but will have to adjust to the bigger role of each being full-time.

Garcia missed nearly all of his junior season with a knee injury — he was hurt on the opening kickoff of the first game — and will now go two ways in his senior season. With his older brothers being two of the top running backs in school history, Garrett has a lot on his plate as a fullback.

It's not a position he's had to play at the varsity level much in his career, so some of the nuances of the position in the Wing-T might take a bit to come to him.