Jan Cechak sees the difference when he fills out a roster or makes decisions on a depth chart, which once was virtually non-existent.
Now, the Tunkhannock football coach thinks it is time for the changes to translate to wins on the football field and an important step in maintaining the program into the future.
When Cechak returned to the job between the 2014 and 2015 seasons, the Tigers were coming off a winless season and were down to just 18 bodies. After two straight 2-8 seasons under Cechak, Tunkhannock has 44 players, is all set to play junior varsity games and is loaded with experience on the varsity level to the point where expecting significant improvement seems reasonable.
Tunkhannock returns an experienced line, features one of the Wyoming Valley Conference’s most-established backfield threats in Logan Cywinski and has a large receiving corps with which returning quarterback Zach Rogers can work.
Cywinski has produced nearly two-thirds of the Tigers’ yardage the past two seasons while moving between runningback and quarterback. He still spent plenty of time at quarterback last season, but Rogers started every game. This season, Cywinski could mix tailback and fullback responsibilities, depending on formation.
Tunkhannock graduated its top two receivers, but Jake Stephens and Connor Munley are back with starting experience at wide receiver, Sam Rice returns at tight end and basketball player Evan Turner will be used as a slotback/inside receiver in some formations in his first season with the team.
“Opponents are going to have to deal with some mismatches,” Cechak said. “We’ll have four receivers 6-3 or bigger.”
Guard/down lineman Tyler Pugh is in his third season as starter on both sides of the ball. Tackle Nate Shirtz is a three-year starter up front on offense along with Tyler Peterson on defense. Mark Holton, who could be part of a three-man rotation for two spots, has nearly as much experience at defensive end.
Among the many other experienced returnees for the Tigers are Matt Ramey, a fullback who has also played at tight end; Garrett Hopkins, a strong safety who may see some time at running back behind Ramey and Cywinski in power formations; Dennie Robinson, a cornerback who could help out at running back or wide receiver; center/defensive lineman Thomas Parry; Peterson at guard on offense; Rice at defensive end; Cywinski and Tyler Grasso at the linebacker spots in the 5-2 defense; Munley, who is moving from safety to cornerback; and kicker/punter Billy Prebola, who remains with the Tunkhannock soccer team but may add some receiver duties.
Joey Reyes, at offensive tackle, and Turner, at defensive end, are also likely to be in the lineup. Gavin DiAmoto is another option in the secondary.
With eight playoff spots available for 11 teams in District 2 Class 4A, the Tigers remained in contention until the final week a year ago.
“I honestly believe if we stay healthy, we can make a really good run this year,” Cechak said.
Tunkhannock opens the season Aug. 25 at Nanticoke, then plays its home opener Sept. 1 against Pittston Area, one of its WVC large school rivals and one of the teams it will be against in the playoff points race.
The remainder of the schedule is: Sept. 8, HONESDALE; Sept. 15 at Wyalusing; Sept. 22, WESTERN WAYNE; Sept. 29, at Lake-Lehman; Oct. 6, CRESTWOOD; Oct. 13, at Meyers; Oct. 20, TOWANDA; Oct. 27, NORTHWEST.