Thursday, September 20, 2012

Whippets to finally enjoy comforts of home


  • DOWNINGTOWN -- It’s just three weeks into the season and you might have forgotten two teams call Kottmeyer Stadium home.
  • While Downingtown East has made its trip from Lionville to Kottmeyer each of the first three weeks, Downingtown West has passed the stadium located on its campus each of the past four weeks, including the final preseason scrimmage.
  • It’s been a long time coming for the Whippets -- approximately 275 miles round trip over the three regular season games -- and finally, tonight, they will grace the home side.
  • “It’s gonna feel great,’ West senior offensive lineman Elijah Wilkinson said. “We have our new jerseys and it’s gonna feel great to have the support of our fans. It’s gonna be a great night.”
  • All the attention all offseason and early on thus far has gone to the Cougars. And West may have noticed. Just a little bit.
  • “Coatesville had some Division 1 kids last year and all the talk this year is about the scholarship kids up on the hill (Downingtown East),” West coach Mike Milano said. “We have 60 tough-as-nails Downingtown kids who are willing to play anywhere and look forward to playing anyone. They’re excited for this game, and they’ve worked hard to get where they are.”
  • The Whippets are 2-1 with Penn Wood on the slate tonight, largely with names in the boxscore that make you ask Tino Bunhu are these guys?
  • They might not be household names, outside of Wilkinson, but they have been the type of kids that provided the foundation for Milano’s league co-champion teams in 2008 and 2009. Bunhu, by the way, racked up 278 rushing yards in his first two games after playing strictly defensive back as a junior.
  • Now, without the kind of star player like former quarterbacks Bret Gillespie or Nolan Kearney to draw the spotlight, the Whippets have grown to relish their underdog persona.
  • “It motivates us, being on the back page of the paper in the Daily Local,” Wilkinson said. “It motivates us to work hard and get back on the front page. … We’re trying to prove everybody wrong and prove to everybody that we can play.”
  • With only three returning starters, Milano has plugged in parts that, aside from a nightmare of a trip to Camden, Delaware last Friday in a 21-7 loss to Caesar Rodney, have played well for an inexperienced group.
  • Kids like running back Mitchell Meleski (307 rushing yards, two touchdowns and another 50 receiving with another TD) and quarterback Nick Pagel (161 passing yards, three TDs) have stepped in as first-year starters and been successful behind Wilkinson and senior Ian Nanni.
  • Defensively the Whippets have given up 28 points in three contests with a lot of new names as well. Danny Speca is the leader at defensive tackle, giving West a veteran presence up front. Junior Evan Wolf was recruited from the lacrosse team and has stepped in as a starting safety. Teddy Verano, the other safety, is one of two two-way kids. And inside a sophomore, Lucas McMahon, starts at middle linebacker.
  • “It’s a mindset we’ve been forced to deal with the last couple years, of being the underdog,” Milano said. “With all the negative talk about what we’re not, the reality is we’re not that young. We have kids who’ve played in the system since eighth grade. We have a lot of seniors who waited their turn stepping up for us. We have a lot of program kids who you can win with.”
  • In a football-thirsty town, West’s teams have always drawn crowds. It might take a few extra looks in the program to associate number with name, but for those Whippets who’ve waited so long to get back, the familiar sight of the packed stands will make the wait worthwhile.
  • “Kottmeyer is my favorite place on earth,” Speca said. “It’s a great atmosphere and I can’t wait to get in front of the home crowd and give them a show.”
  • It will also be an easier way to erase the memories of the Caesar Rodney game in which West had its fair share of trials with the notoriously homer Delaware referees. Whether or not the the men in stripes were the difference in the game no one will ever know, but needless to say the NFL’s replacement refs look like the gold standard to the Whippets at this point.
  • Milano will be serving his one-game suspension tonight after being ejected in Camden, but that might just be more ammo for the Whippets, who preach us against the world.
  • “We love that people don’t talk about us,” Speca said. “It’s a huge motivational tool and gives us a little more fire in our bellies. It’s always nice to see the Daily Local project us to lose or something like that, because it gives us more juice going into the game.”
  • The Whippets have only four home games this season, with one of them against cohabiter East.
  • “It’s really good to be back,” Milano said. “It’s a great place to play football. The fans are great and the kids are excited to play in front of them.”

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