First-year Upper Perkiomen football coach Tom Hontz walked off the Indian Stadium turf last Thursday with a smile as he dispatched the Tribe to the locker room after what he called the best practice to that point.
"What's pretty cool is that we're just trying to make things as ' user-friendly,' as possible,' said Hontz, previously the school's highly-successful wrestling coach as well as football assistant. "We've been working at this for months, and we can sense that they're getting confidence and more confidence. That's all you can hope for — that they don't have to think about what they're doing, and they're just out there doing what needs to be done.'
A lot will obviously need to be done to get the Indians — who have won just one of their past 21 games — back into the Pioneer Athletic Conference contention mix.
But Hontz, who succeeds Steve Moyer (now an assistant at Spring-Ford) is confident the Indians (1-8 PAC-10, 1-9 overall last year) can make strides on the road back to competitiveness.
"We'll probably only start maybe three seniors on each side of the ball, but I'm excited,' Hontz said.
Junior Jake Breyer and sophomore Zeke Hallman are battling it out for the starting quarterback position, while Mike Felix will be the feature back, succeeding graduated 1,000-yard rusher Aidan Schaffer.
Hontz expects fullback Somky Akpunonu, wideout Jake Pirri and tight end Owen Leister to also be key factors on offense, with Mahlon Schaffer leading the line.
The 6-foot, 248-pound Schaffer and 6-1, 248-pound Mitch Fretz represent a couple of big bodies on the D-Line, while middle linebacker Dylan Croissette, safety Felix, cornerback Austin Bittenbender and linebacker Jake Votta are all expected to make key contributions.
"Coach Hontz has been working us really hard this year,' said Felix, a 5-10, 175-pounder who rushed for 425 yards last year as Schaffer's understudy. "I think we'll be more confident and I think we'll be a smarter team.'
Whether the Indians can increase its victory total remains to be seen, but Hontz — an assistant on the Tribe's ' 97 PAC-10 co-champion squad — is hopeful it won't take long to turn the corner.
"That wasn't a real large team (in ' 97),' Hontz recalled. "They didn't have a lot of size, but they were disciplined and aggressive and just hated to lose. That's what we're trying to change — that mentality that losing's OK or acceptable.'
And after years of presiding over a perennially strong wrestling program, Hontz is hoping to carry that mentality over from the mat to the gridiron.
"My assistant coaches say, ' Man, you're treating this like a wrestling practice,'' Hontz said. "The way I look at it is, if I can put 11 tough wrestlers out there, we'll be OK. We'll know we're conditioned and won't quit out there. That's what we're hoping to teach.'
Follow Darryl Grumling on Twitter at @MercSmokinD.