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  • Writer's pictureAl Thompson

CHEROKEE SENIORS - LED BY AUSTIN LENART - HOPE TO ADD TO THE CHIEFS FOOTBALL LEGACY


Cherokee senior-to-be Austin Lenart is an outstanding student and is being recruited to play football at the next level. Photo by Al Thompson

The beauty of watching high school sports – especially at the public and parochial level – is watching how well youth sports systems can work in developing talent.


Players who start out in youth organizations such as CYO and YMCA are great examples of organizations that help kids get started in athletics and team sports.

In football, the Bert Bell and Pop Warner youth leagues are among the classic examples of how to do it right.

Cherokee High School in Marlton, NJ has a football program steeped in tradition and success. Much of that success can be traced back to the youth “feeder” groups the program has leaned on for decades.

The Chiefs have won eleven Group State Championships at various levels over the last 42 years (1981, 1982 1985 1990, 1993, 2005, 2009, 2010, 2013, 2014 and 2019).

Cherokee football has recorded four undefeated Seasons: 1981, 1982, 1985 and 2010.

The common denominator of all these great teams is how the leaders of those teams formed bonds in the youth groups they grew up playing in together.


Cherokee middle linebacker Austin Lenart (23) was a tackling machine in 2022, recording 128 tackles for the season. Photo submitted.

The latest group who may make a run for a title is led by linebacker/tight end Austin Lenart.

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound two-way player earned his dinner in 2022 making 128 total tackles during Cherokee’s 5-6 campaign that included a NJSIAA Group 5 first round playoff win against Williamstown.

Many players on the Chiefs team last season were underclassmen.

Head coach Brian Glatz hopes that with players like Lenart, Cherokee can make some noise in 2023.

“Austin is going to be a three-year starter now at linebacker,” Glatz said during a recent on-campus interview. “He’s going to be the leader of that group.”

Glatz took over as head coach in 2018. He had been an assistant coach for the Chiefs since 1996.

“He’s been playing football a long time,” continued Glatz, whose son Matt will be a junior wide receiver and linebacker this fall. “My son is actually a year younger. So he’s been on that team, I helped coach their team when they were in fifth, sixth grade. I’ve been around this group of kids through the midget program. I’ve watched Austin throughout this whole time with this group that he’s talking about.”

The group Lenart talked about during the same on-campus talk recently include longtime teammates Ryan Bender at quarterback, OL/DL Zach Ott, Trent Osborn WR/OLB, Tommy Pajic K/WR, Kevin Pacan RB/CB, Murad Campfield RB/MLB as well as running back Luke Brown.

“It’s nice to see that group come along together,” Glatz said. “And the guys [Austin] is talking about in terms of the guys coming back next year.”


Cherokee's Austin Lenart hopes he can take his talents to the next level. Photo submitted.

LENART ON HIS ROLE AS LINEBACKER AND LEADER

Like many players, Lenart is uncomfortable talking about his own statistics. He was reminded that accumulating great stats usually translates to success on the field as a team.

Former Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon said that while sacks were important, his defense led the league in that category last year, he felt game-altering plays - forcing the quarterback to make mistakes, creating turnovers and stopping the run were more important and helped the Birds win the NFC Championship.

It’s how a defensive player impacts the game rather than how many sacks or tackles he racks up.

Lenart is a tackling machine for sure. He has 176 career tackles for Cherokee and is eyeing the school record of 292, but knows those tackles must impact the game to have meaning.

“I think the energy for a team, obviously big plays, you get big motivation and that gives you the energy,” Lenart said. “That allows your team to be fired up, make more plays, stop long drives and diminish the energy of the other team.”


Cherokee head football coach Brian Glatz played for the Chiefs in the mid 1980s. Photo by Al Thompson.

Lenart also generated three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, two quarterback hurries and two tackles for loss. He’d like to break the school record for tackles, but also get to the quarterback more than last season.

“I definitely want to get in the backfield and be putting pressure on the QB,” he said. “Sacks can help that, it’s how you’re taught in practice and how you perform on the field.”

Lenart looks like an edge rusher. He is long and powerfully built. But Glatz has had him at middle linebacker since his sophomore season.

He is getting recruited by college scouts for both positions.

“Even with my recruiting, I’ve been asked by a lot of colleges, ‘are you going to pursue becoming an edge rusher yourself and try and make that transition?’” Lenardt said. “Growing up, I had been an edge rusher up to eighth grade, then I moved into inside linebacker. I’ve been there (edge), I still love it.

“But [inside linebacker] where I’ve been the last four years, that’s where I feel the most comfortable.”

At 6-3, 220, is Lenart comfortable at that height and weight?

“I definitely think I’m able to work with it and use my size to my advantage, shedding blocks, blowing up a hole or sticking a gap, hitting a running back.”

Lenart said his numbers come from the defense the Chiefs run.

“At inside, it goes by your defense,” he said. “Last year we ran a lot of fronts of 4-2-5 and 3-4 fronts. We brought a lot of stuff from the edge last year, not as much on the inside.”

Lenart said all that matters is what the score shows at the end of the game.

“As an inside linebacker, I do want to get in the backfield, but I really just want to help any way I can.

“I think striving for personal goals, numbers…trying to reach them can help the team. But ultimately doing whatever you can to help the team is also the most important. So for me, that’s going to be getting the most tackles I can. I hope to get in the back field, that’s what I want to do.”

Glatz said he hopes to expand Lenart’s role on offense this season as a tight end. His size and athleticism could make him a great target for Bender to throw to.

“He played some offense for us last year,” Glatz said. “He’ll be working in with some significant tight end work. He will have some set packages. With his size and physicality, we expect to have some good success with that.”


Austin Lenart and his fellow seniors have expectations for success in 2023. Photo submitted

COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Like any good player going into his senior season, Lenart is looking at his options to play at the next level. He informs that the Patriot League has shown interest. Because of his excellent work in the classroom, so is the Ivy League.

Who wouldn’t want to be pursued by Power 5 schools? Some student-athletes have made the mistake of chasing a program they dream of when the interest is not mutual.

It may be wise to focus on the programs that are interested in you. It’s not settling, it is just being smart. The object is to get on the field.

Lenart really seems to get that.

“Being recruited at the level I am, I’m very excited about it,” said Lenart, who lists quarterback Jalen Hurts as his favorite Eagle and former Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly as a pro player he admires. “I’m very happy to be at this level and hopefully play there.”

Lenart continued.

“Obviously you dream. You want to shoot outside the stars…SEC, Big 10 all that would be amazing to me. A dream school like Penn State…’linebacker U’ that would be amazing. But I am very excited and happy to see if I make to the next level, how will I execute?”

A question you hear a lot of by college and pro scouts is how much does the player – regardless of the sport or gender - love their sport? Well?

“I absolutely love football,” Lenart said, seeming to be in a hurry to answer the question. “Going into my thirteenth year, I’m 17. I’ve been playing since I was four years old. Honestly, I might have been earlier, if it weren’t for my dad trying to hold me off. It’s been my life. I’ve built relationships, friends, and met all these people because of it. It’s going to guide me for the rest of my life.”


Austin Lenart will look to play more tight end in 2023. Photo submitted.

THE CHIEFS HAVE EYES ON THE PRIZE

Recently, New Jersey has joined its neighbors in Pennsylvania and Delaware in crowing a true state champion.

For decades, football playoffs stopped with regional titles for each group. There were routinely over 20 “State Champions” each season. Now, for public schools, there are just five groups, five champions.

With the number of seniors coming back, Lenart and his teammates see a chance to hang a banner and join some of the great Cherokee teams of the past.

“The expectations are very high,” Lenart said. “We also understand we have a very challenging schedule. Every week is going to be a battle.

“With all these guys coming back, we expect to be successful because we’ve been playing for years. We have a lot of returning starters. We feel very confident in our ability to go out there and play the game well.”

CHEROKEE LEGACY

Glatz was a standout football player and wrestler at Cherokee High graduating in 1986.

He returned in 1996 to teach math and coach.

Glatz coached the offensive line first under John Scott then continued coaching the line and became the offensive run call coordinator under PJ Mehigan in 2002. Glatz is just the fourth head coach for the Cherokee Football Program.

“The interesting thing about Cherokee is guys like Austin, whose father played here and other guys that are on that same team, their fathers played here,” Glatz recalled. “It’s that legacy, the tradition. And guys like Austin who have been coming to Cherokee football games from the time they were four or five…since they can remember. It’s the sense of the ownership of the team…this is their team, this is their town and they’ve been a part of it since they were coming out of diapers.

“I think that engrains that commitment that it takes (to win).” *

Email Al Thompson at al.thompson@footballstories.com

Source: wikipedia.com

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