In gearing up for a return to the powerful Suburban One League National Conference, North Penn will open the football season Friday night vs. La Salle in the first of three nonleague contests against solid Catholic League opponents.
A difficult early-season slate strengthened the Knights last year. After an 0-3 start, including a 34-7 loss to the Explorers, they won 10 straight games in advancing to the PIAA District 1 Class AAAA final.
This year, after La Salle, North Penn's schedule will continue with West Catholic, the reigning Catholic League Class AA champ, and Archbishop Wood, the defending AAA state titlist.
The Knights' bid for a strong start hinges largely, as usual, on their running game. Junior tailback Nyfease West, a 1,500-yard rusher last year, has an experienced line in front of him.
The Explorers, eager to take back the Catholic League AAAA crown from St. Joseph's Prep, are spurred by Vanderbilt-bound quarterback Kyle Shurmur and speedy rushers Jordan Meachum and Nick Rinella.
Here is a closer look at the 7:30 p.m. contest in Lansdale.
Coaches. La Salle's Drew Gordon is 83-23 (.783 winning percentage) in eight years. For North Penn, Dick Beck is 136-28 (.829) in 12 seasons.
History. La Salle holds a 5-1 advantage in the head-to-head series, including two straight triumphs. North Penn last won in 2011, in a state semifinal.
Established QB. After throwing for 2,474 yards and 25 touchdowns last year, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Shurmur is primed for a big season.
New QB. Spencer Jones, a 5-11, 175-pound junior, takes over for Austin Shearer, who graduated, as North Penn's QB.
Stout bunch. The Knights' formidable offensive line includes tackles Frank Tranzilli (6-2, 290) and Andrew Thomas (6-2, 255), center Ryan Nowicki (6-1, 265), and guard Nick Argento (6-0, 300).
Still learning. The Explorers' mostly untested offensive line includes Matt McDermott (6-2, 255), Tom Garvin (6-3, 245), Conor McCracken (6-2, 250), Jim Morrissey (6-3, 265), and Ryan Schutta (6-1, 240).
Top targets. Shurmur spreads the ball among handyman Jimmy Herron, fleet wideout Charles Headen (10.87 seconds in 100 meters), and tight end Charlie Hemcher.
Strong leg. The Knights have a proven kicker in senior Matt Ammendola, who hit seven field goals last season.
Anchor. With his toughness and instincts, senior outside linebacker Ryan Brady is arguably La Salle's top defender.
Pick. North Penn, as in past seasons, is a work in progress. With Shurmur and company quicker out of the gate, the Explorers win their ninth straight opener. La Salle, 28-10.