In a major turnaround from his first two football seasons at Penncrest, Rick Stroup has guided the resurgent Lions to a 5-0 record.
It's the program's best start since the mid-1960s.
"You never know what to expect going into the year, but our kids worked very hard in the offseason," Stroup said. "We're stronger and faster than we were last year."
Penncrest went 3-8 overall and 2-8 in the Central League last season. "We weren't able to finish games," said Stroup, who went 2-8 and 2-7 in his first year at the helm.
The Lions, ranked No. 23 in Southeastern Pennsylvania by The Inquirer, will visit No. 8 Garnet Valley (5-0) at 7 p.m. Friday in a Central League showdown of unbeatens at Moe DeFrank Stadium.
Since 2008, Garnet Valley or Ridley has won or shared top honors in the Central League.
"It should be a great atmosphere Friday," Stroup said. "Obviously, we're going in trying to get to Garnet Valley's level. We want to climb the ladder."
The highlight so far for Penncrest, which is 4-0 in the Central League, was a 22-21, come-from behind victory over Haverford High in Week 2.
"The kids showed a lot of resiliency and character," said Stroup, who assisted longtime Garnet Valley boss Mike Ricci for 11 seasons before taking over at Penncrest.
The Lions' pro-style, pistol offense, which is averaging 24.6 points, is sparked by athletic quarterback Danny Fisher and running backs Rashad Johnson, Justin Batipps, and Joe Volciak.
Fisher, a junior and first-year starter, has completed 40 of 68 passes for 437 yards and four touchdowns. He has rushed 50 times for 197 yards and three TDs.
"He manages the game well, doesn't get down on himself when things take a bad turn," Stroup said.
Johnson (45 carries for 356 yards), Batipps (56 for 264), and Volciak (14 for 114) have combined for 734 rushing yards and six TDs.
"We try to spread the ball around," Stroup said. "We rotate the guys every other series so they don't get beat up."
Penncrest's improved offensive line consists of center Sean Stitz; guards Bob Long and Shane Finegan; tackles Zach Larkin, Jonah Jackson, and Tom Jansen; and tight end John George. Long and George are three-year starters.
A 4-4 defense that has yielded only 6.8 points per game is headed by ends Volciak and Andrew Benecke, tackles Tyler Butz and William "Buddy" Moat, linebackers Diego Zubieta and Chris Alyanakian, and free safety Angelo Lochetto.
That unit will have to be at its best against Garnet Valley's triple-option attack. The Jaguars, with Jake Irving (42 carries for 414 yards and six TDs) leading the way, average 38.8 points.
"When you go against an option team, you have to play assignment football," Stroup said. "Everybody has a job to do. And you can't overpenetrate."