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New Face in Town

Shannon Manning looking to build up CM's football team

TIM WEIGHT/Special to the Sun-Gazette Central Mountain coach Shannon Manning talks to his team during a practice in July. Manning takes over the Wildcats program after previously coaching at Bellefonte.

Central Mountain running back Ryan Pentz terrorized opposing defenses last season, running for a team-high 845 yards. The senior back has the potential to eclipse that mark as new Wildcats coach Shannon Manning is bringing the spread offense to Central Mountain.

Pentz will be one of many Wildcats unleashed by the philosophy Manning is carrying to Central Mountain with him.

Manning took over the program earlier this year after he ended his tenure at Bellefonte by winning 21 games over the course of the last three years.

“We’re a spread team that is very heavy with the run. It’s the way we do it, we all come from an option background. We don’t run option but a lot of the blocking schemes and what we do revolves around it,” Manning said.

The spread offense is new to Pentz who operated out of a pro-style system a year ago under former coach Jim Renninger.

Pentz’s primary use was in the run game but will see his role increase in the pass game this fall as the Wildcats will be spread out. That’s not a bad thing at all for the Wildcats if Pentz is used in the passing game. Despite accumulating 44 yards and just five catches a season ago, Pentz was rarely used. Despite little use, he was efficient when he was used as a receiver. The 5-foot, 11-inch Pentz — who demonstrates exceptional vision and power as a back – has the potential for another monster season in the new system. Manning also pointed to the fact the Pentz may take some snaps out of the Wildcat formation.

Pentz is not the only player poised to have a stat-packed season. Central Mountain’s second-year quarterback Brett Gerlach should see a bump in his stats as well. The decision to run spread and abandon the pro-style approach will give Gerlach space and time to throw.

Gerlach — a senior who can make defenses pay on the ground and has quality arm strength – completed 53% of his passes last season.

Central Mountain’s stretched out formation will open the running lanes for Pentz and allow for quarterback Brett Gerlach to see the field much better than he did in the pro-style system.

New to Pentz, Gerlach, and the rest of the Central Mountain skill players is an almost band new offensive line. The Wildcats front five was stellar last season, but this fall just one starter returns as Anton Stratts is the lone man back.

According to Manning, the focus around his squad’s offensive scheme is all about fit.

“We moved Ben Garlick to tackle. We’ve moved a lot of kids around. It’s about who fits where now. It’s figuring out who works best with whom. Solidifying the line and getting consistent reps is what we’re trying to do,” he said.

Garlick, who played tight end last season, is helping fill the void left by sliding inside.

On the defensive side of the ball, Manning said the Wildcats will operate out of a base 4-2-5 system. A defensive approach that is primarily utilized to slow down spread attacks and is one that welcomes short passing options.

“We use a 4-2-5 because it’s a very base defense. It allows us to base up and look at personal. It’s just kind of building our personnel of what we can do,” Manning said.

The 4-2-5 alignment will free inside backers such as Micah Walizer to wreak havoc as it gives defenders the option to rush or drop back in coverage. As a junior, Walizer recorded a team-high 80 tackles and four forced fumbles.

Walizer, Central Mountain’s vocal leader on the defense, shows excellent all over the field. Manning said the senior linebacker has been nothing but great for the program.

“He’s awesome with communication. He’s always in the know, he makes sure he’s at every workout and every meeting. He makes it his business to know what exactly is going on. He’s made a big difference.”

Stratts and Tyler Weaver are two other names who could flourish under the 4-2-5. Both pass rushers ranked in the top-two in sacks last season. Weaver led the Wildcats with 3.5 while Stratts contributed with 2.5 of his own.

Weaver will likely be placed outside of the linebacking core and have the chance to rush the passer or defend in the flats. Stratts will clog up the inside as a run-stuffer and have an opportunity to get into the backfield, aiming to top last year’s sack total.

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