CONLIN LIKES GALLOPING GHOSTS’ CHANCES IN 2017
When a head football coach is blessed with a few great players to work with, he must take advantage of the window of opportunity he has with them.
For Abington coach Kevin Conlin, he has the enviable job of getting the most out of first team All-State running back Darryl Davis-McNeil and linebacker/fullback Jackson Taylor who Conlin says “…is probably going to be our overall best player.”
Conlin is entering his second season as Abington’s head coach after replacing Tim Sorber, who left after compiling a 104-86 record while winning two Suburban One League National Conference titles (2006 and 2013) in 16 seasons.
Conlin played offensive line for La Salle College High where he was named All-City in 1992. He then went on to play at Penn State (93-97) where he was a two-year starter at center for the Nittany Lions.
Conlin then decided to get into coaching, took an assistant coaching job (as well social studies teacher) and served as an assistant from 1999 to 2013.
After taking off two seasons, Conlin was named head coach of the Galloping Ghosts in 2016.
His first year had mixed reviews. Abington finished 6-5 over, 5-1 in league play, losing only to undefeated Neshaminy in the tough Suburban One-National Division.
Conlin said he and both his coordinators were in their first year in those roles and had to find their way. He said this Spring has been much smoother.
“This year installing plays on offense and defense has been a whole lot easier, let’s put it that way,” said Conlin at a recent interview before an offseason training session. “Now we have a full year’s worth of film to watch.”
One player that jumps off the screen is Davis-McNeil. As a junior, the 5-foot-11 speedster torched defenses for 1,875 yards and 18 touchdowns.
“Lots of yards, lots of touchdowns, he’s a big-play guy,” Conlin said. “He had a couple of games over 200 yards last year. He made coaching the offensive line a little easier last year where we could rely on just handing off the ball to him 25-30 times a game.”
Davis-McNeil talked about what style of ball carrier he is.
“I try to be elusive as a running back,” said Davis-McNeil who admires NFL stars Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, both play for the Pittsburgh Steelers. “I can run between the tackles but I can also run to the outside. I’m like a speed back and think I am elusive and shifty.”
Conlin says will be using Davis-McNeil a little less on offense so he can utilize his is overall football ability on defense.
Davis-McNeil was used for spot duty in the secondary last year. Conlin said he wants to be less predictable on offense.
“One of the things we’re going to try and do is spread the ball around a little bit more because he’s (Davis-McNeil) going to be playing a lot more defense,” Conlin said. “I’ve always had the philosophy to have your best eleven on the field and obviously he’s one of our best eleven. That may be a little bit of a change for him; maybe getting 15-20 carries a game.”
Conlin said that when the game is on the line, he still wants the ball in the hands of his feature back.
“When the fourth quarter comes around, everybody knows who is getting the ball, that’s when he became his strongest (last year),” Conlin said. “He had a lot of long runs, a lot of big touchdowns. There were a couple of games where we had to milk away the clock where he got the tough yards in the fourth quarter when everybody knew it was going to him, knew it going right into the “C” gap and he still just put his head down and got those kind of yards. That’s something he prided himself on, which I can appreciate as an offensive line coach.”
Davis-McNeil said he knows colleges are looking at him and he wants to be in the best position to earn a scholarship. So, while he is with the team for every workout, he is also seeking outside advise.
“I’m training a little bit more independent,” Davis-McNeil said. “I am training here and outside. I’ve gained weight and kept my speed.”
He has received interest from schools such as Kentucky and Rutgers. Davis-McNeil said he expects to attend a Rutgers camp this summer.
Conlin, who says he wants to improve his in-game play calling and spread the ball around more, talked about the challenges of overtaking successful league programs as Neshaminy and Pennsbury
“We just have to keep plugging away,” Conlin said. “We have our entire offensive backfield back, our entire defensive backfield is coming back. But we’re going to rely more on out defensive line and our linebackers.”
Conlin said his biggest challenge will be rebuilding an offensive line hit hard by graduation.
“The key this year is going to be our offensive line,” Conlin said. “That’s going to be the key. We only have one starting offensive lineman returning. So it’s going to be really important to find the five guys, or six or seven guys who can jell together, and really develop that. That’s the biggest challenge.”
Tom Lukens (6-2, 273) is the one returning, Conlin says he’s a good one.
“Offensive player, two-way player,” Conlin said. “He’s a pretty good player. He’s only a junior but he’s been starting for two years.”
Also in the mix is quarterback Billy Griffenburg who started last season.
“He didn’t have the greatest year statistical-wise last year,” Conlin said. “But a lot of that has to do with Daryl running the ball a lot.”
Conlin said Taji Redd Jr. will be his main outside target coming back. Conlin said.
Then there is Taylor.
“Jackson Taylor is our fullback and middle linebacker,” Conlin said. “He’s an absolute terror and a beast on the field. He’s about 245 pounds, really put together, a great player. He’s also getting Division 1 and 1 AA looks as well.”
Conlin knows that if his offensive line comes together and along with an experienced quarterback, he will will have a great weapon in Davis-McNeil.
That said, for the Galloping Ghosts to challenge for a PIAA 6A playoff berth, his team will have to play great defense and have a special teams unit that can make an impact during a game.
“Yes,” Conlin said. “We’re going to focus on those things, defense especially. We played pretty good defense last year. It took our offense a little bit more time to catch up.”
Conlin said he knows what he, as a head coach, needs to improve. Some of that advise came from his own players.
“We had some exit interviews and some of the player thought we could have been a little tougher in practice,” the coach admitted.
Davis-McNeil was asked what he wanted to accomplish his last season as a high school football player.
“I want to win every game my senior year like anybody would,” Davis-McNeil said. “But you have to take it one game at a time. But I am going to try and win every game. Our offensive line is looking good, looking big this year. We’re trying to dominate this year.”
How does he do that?
“Consistency,” Davis-McNeil said. “Plus listening, discipline, working hard, encouraging other teammates and being more than just yourself.”
Sounds like Conlin is already ahead of schedule. *
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii