Saturday, July 09, 2005

First-year coach optimistic about young Eagles

First-year coach optimistic about young Eagles
Theirs is one of the most storied franchises in semipro football history.

From 1982 through 1991, the Scranton Eagles won nine Empires Football League championships and three national titles including their perfect 17-0 run in 1988. In 1999, the Eagles won a 10th EFL crown and during the 2000-01 seasons put together a 27-5 record.

All of that, and there is still a sense of newness to the 2005 Eagles who open their Empire Football League schedule tonight with a visit to Albany to face the Metro Mallers.

So new, in fact, that first-year head coach Mike Woodard is still putting names to faces and uniform numbers after weeks of practice.

“We have rookies everywhere,” Woodard said. “I’m going by the numbers and faces.”

That could mean a tough opening to the season as Albany also has a long tradition of excellence in the EFL, and was one of the top rivals the Eagles battled in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Still, in spite of the youth he sees on the roster, Woodard expects the team to get it together quickly.

“I’m optimistic,” Woodard said. “We have a lot of youngsters, and they’re still growing and learning. But we’re going to win some games.”

Woodard will take a page from the Eagles past to build his offense. An “in your face” running game will be the cornerstone of the attack and was one of the strengths the team showed in its controlled scrimmage loss to Binghamton last weekend.

“Our running game has the best of both worlds,” Woodard said. “We have the whole package, with both power and speed.”

One of the team’s veterans, Marvin Wilson, may be the best player the Eagles have. Always intense, Wilson has played both running back and linebacker for the Eagles, but is expected to handle a big load running the ball.

Still there are questions.

“I don’t know if he’ll be the fullback or tailback,” Woodard said.

As he continues to tinker with the team, the coach understands the difficulty of getting rookies to mesh with the veterans.

“We have a young secondary, a couple of rookie offensive linemen, a rookie wide receiver,” Woodard said. “We have to get everybody on the same page, so that they all know what’s expected of them.”

Desire is one thing the rookie coach will look for early-on.

“I’m going to go with the guys with the most heart,” Woodard said. “Talent doesn’t always make it work. I’d rather have a team that has heart, and plays very smart.

“Now, I have a very smart team.”

Coming off three consecutive losing seasons, they will need to play smart starting tonight.

Eagles notes

The Empire Football League is beginning its 35th season. . . Albany is coming off a 9-1 regular season. . . The Eagles have their season opener July 16 with Ottawa. Home games will be played at Scranton Memorial Stadium, starting at 7:30.

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