Hughesville Spartans

SUN-GAZETTE FILE PHOTO Hughesville’s Devin Swink runs for a first down against Warrior Run last year in Hughesville. Swank will be a player Hughesville will have to replace this season.

Howard Rainey likes the talent his players have shown him since he became the team’s coach last winter. He likes the confidence they are displaying even more.

Hughesville has struggled since last reaching the posteason in 2016, winning just six games the previous four seasons. Reversing the culture is never easy and often can be harder than game planning. For Hughesville to flourish again, it must believe it can do so and Rainey senses his Spartans have that belief.

He is leading that charge and convincing his players they can do some big things in 2021. Let the doubters say what they will. Hughesville knows what it can do and is eager to start proving it.

“I think we’re winning them over. They’re getting really hyped about things,” Rainey said. “Everyone is starting to buy into the lifting program that we use and they are starting to understand our offense and defense better. I think we’re going to surprise some people this year.”

Hughesville built some offseason momentum by beating Montgomery in its season finale last year and opens with the Red Raiders at home, kicking off a stretch of three home games in four weeks.

Rainey played college and semi-pro football before beginning his coaching career which includes stops at Jersey Shore and Loyalsock. Rainey coached a strong Loyalsock junior high team last fall and likes the foundation Hughesville can lay this fall. The Spartans are fairly young, but Rainey is excited about that promising talent mixing with the older players. The future looks bright, but the present might be pretty good, too.

“We’re hoping to pull off a .500 or better season and that is going to show the young kids that they can win,” Rainey said. “We’re working toward that and we have a couple good years ahead of us.”

Hughesville will be switching up its offense and defense. Offensively, the Spartans are moving away from the run-heavy Wing-T and likely will be more balanced. It will be a power-based offense, but the passing game will feature more shorter and intermediate routes in an effort to keep defenses honest. It helps having quarterback Joey Swink back, as well, after he started for the first time last season.

Swink showcased his throwing capability with a big performance against Midd-West and has emerged as a leader throughout the offseason. A player who pushes his teammates to be going hard all the time, Swink also has some exciting weapons in sophomore Angelo Ferrigno and junior Chaz Neidig. Keep an eye on Luke Kaiser as well. All three could be poised for big breakthrough seasons and help Hughesville stretch the field more. Jonah Durham, John Finnegan and Connor Knight also provide depth and potential quality production.

Mikey Dylina and Brenden Knight likely will be the team’s go-to running backs. Dylina has been both a running back and wide receiver the past two seasons and his versatility makes him a productive weapon. Ditto for Knight who was second on the team in rushing and who also averaged 29 yards on two receptions. Both also can help on special teams, especially Dylina who was among the area’s most consistent punters a year ago. Kelby Gardner also could see a large role and both JJ Gabel and Luke Stutzman will see time at fullback.

Hughesville will be young up front and must replace some quality linemen from a unit which helped Hughesville top 300 yards rushing in both victories. Senior Chase Snyder will help anchor that unit and Hughesville also should a receive boost from Brennan Hartman moving in from Loyalsock. Junior Josh Applegate, freshman Russell Dewire and freshman Bryson Swisher also could be starters. Bryce Burkhart, Devon Polcyn and Chase Myers are other linemen to watch. Garret Sharer and Tyler Fowler could start at tight end.

Linebacker JJ Gabel likely will be a big game-changer on defense. He’s a relentless worker who Rainey said has been one of the team’s top leaders.

­2021 Football Players to Watch

Mikey Dylina, RB/WR/DB: A versatile threat who can play multiple positions on both sides of the ball, Dylina provides a good piece of the foundation Hughesville is hoping to build upon this season. A three-year starter, Dylina enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2020 and was both a running and receiving threat. He caught a 52-yard touchdown in a win against Warrior Run and also ran for a touchdown. As a sophomore, Dylina was the team’s second-leading rusher and had a 100-yard game against Wellsboro. He has played both as a linebacker and as a defensive back the past two seasons and gives Hughesville a weapon there. Dylina averaged 4.3 tackles per game and made a season-high eight against Lewisburg. He also forced and caused fumbles. Dylina is one of area’s premier punters and averaged 31.4 yards per punt, placing four inside the 20-yard line.

JJ Gabel, LB/OL: What an addition this Florida transfer could be. A ferocious worker who is receiving significant college interest, Gabel earned 7A all-state honors at linebacker last fall. Gabel can play inside or outside linebacker and made 95 tackles for AC while adding three sacks. The senior 6-footer made seven tackles for loss and topped 10 tackles five times. Gabel is a good run stuffer who also can get after the quarterback and made tackles for loss in six of his last nine games. He also blocked a punt and recovered a fumble. Gabel’s strength and speed (4.8 in the 40) could help him along the offensive line if Hughesville plays him there as well.

Chase Snyder, DL/OL: Another potential two-way standout, Snyder will help anchor both the offensive and defensive lines. The three-year starter helped the Spartans grind out 766 rushing yards in their two victories, including 381 in the season-finale win against Montgomery. Snyder also is strong up front defensively and made five tackles for loss despite missing three games. Snyder was part of a strong pass rush in the season opener against Bloomsburg and collected a sack which resulted in a 16-yard loss. He also was all over the field against District 4 Class AAAA qualifier Mifflinburg when he made a career-high eight tackles. Having Snyder healthy the whole season could provide a defense returning a strong core quite a boost.

Joey Swink, QB/DB: He went through a growing process while starting at quarterback for the first time last season, but Swink came on strong and put together a solid second half. In a run-heavy offense, Swink threw for 495 yards and also ran for a team-high five scores. Swink showed what he can do as a passer in a Week 6 game at Midd-West, completing 10 of 16 passes for a career-high 221 yards and two touchdowns. His throwing ability kept Hughesville in that game and offered a glimpse into what he could provide in 2021. Swink also settled in at cornerback and intercepted two passes, returning one 41 yards against Bloomsburg. He added another in the Montgomery win and made 20 solo tackles. Swink collected five solos against Lewisburg and added a tackle for loss.

Aug. 27–Montgomery

Sept. 3–Mount Carmel

Sept. 10–at Wellsboro

Sept. 17–Mifflinburg

Sept. 24–vs. Warrior Run (at Milton)

Oct. 1–Athens

Oct. 8–at Bloomsburg

Oct. 15–at Southern Columbia

Oct. 22–Loyalsock

Oct. 29–at Muncy


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