"It's going to take us a while before we really come together, but I know the kids better, and we feel more comfortable with each other," Walsh said. ''More importantly, I know the league now. I know what to expect from the other teams and can plan for that."
COACHING. In his second year, Walsh has two new assistants, Walt Hall, who will handle offensive and defensive backs, and line coach Darren Bonacquisti. They join Tim Segich and Jim Donato.
LAST YEAR. 1-9 overall and 1-5, last place, in the Del-Val League American Conference.
LETTERMEN LOST (11). The heart of last season's offense - quarterback Mark Quinn, running back Dave Debardino and receivers Chuck Fulker and Jeff Brower - all graduated. Two-way tackles John Dollard and Mike McCarthy leave big holes in the line. Linebackers Bill Farris and Jerry Southern are also gone.
LETTERMEN RETURNING (7). Despite the loss of Dollard and McCarthy, strength returns on the line with seniors Sean Barano at guard and Mark Steinmetz at center, and 6-foot, 270-pound junior Brian Bienkowski at tackle. Safety Bill Kelly and linebacker Jason Bonacquisti (Darren's son), both seniors, lead the defense. Senior Mike Bonkowski and juniors Jeff Farris and Vince Scheivert will carry the ball.
NEW PLAYERS. Mike Erickson, a 6-foot, 4-inch, 225-pound tackle, started to show promise in his sophomore year as a second-stringer at the end of last season and has had a strong showing in camp. According to Walsh, junior quarterback candidate Chris Chelo has improved tremendously since last year and could contribute.
PROBABLE STARTERS - OFFENSE. Slot-I (belly option) formation; quarterback, either Kelly or Chelo; fullback, Bonkowski; tailback, Farris or Scheivert; linemen, Barano, Steinmetz, Bienkowski and Erickson.
PROBABLE STARTERS - DEFENSE. 4-4 with multiple fronts; linemen, Barano, Steinmetz, Bienkowski and Erickson; linebackers, Bonacquisti and Scheivert; safety, Kelly.
SPECIAL TEAMS. The kicking game should be a strong point for the Vanguards. Scheivert, besides his linebacking and running duties, will kick off and kick field goals.
"He may never leave the field," Walsh joked.
But Walsh also said he feels confident letting Scheivert try field goals
from anywhere inside 40 yards. Bonkowski is a proven punter, having averaged 39 yards per punt last season.
OUTLOOK. After going undefeated in the American Conference last year, Interboro has been shifted to the National Conference for this season. That knocks one of last season's conference heavyweights off the schedule for Sun Valley. And with a year to learn Walsh's system, the Vanguards should get better execution.
"It looks like Chichester and Academy Park have the most talent in our part of the league," Walsh said. "With Interboro moved up to the other half, the National, and with some improvements on our part, we should move up a few places from last year."
SEASON OPENER. At home vs. St. James, tomorrow, 7:30 p.m.
PLAYER TO WATCH
At 5 feet, 9 inches tall and 160 pounds, Bill Kelly isn't anyone's stereotype football player. But despite his size, Kelly made a significant mark as a junior for Sun Valley last year, recording 62 tackles - fourth- highest total on the team - from his safety position.
Penciled in as the starting quarterback as well as safety, Kelly will be even more visible this season.
"Even though he was only a junior, Bill was one of the leaders on defense last year," Coach Joe Walsh said. "And right now he's our starting quarterback, so we're expecting a lot from him."
Kelly expects a lot from himself as well.
"I'm not really a talker, I don't like to tell people what to do," he said. "I would rather play well and have everyone follow my example."
As one of only nine seniors on the team, four who are playing football for the first time, Kelly sees creating team unity as one of his biggest goals.
"On offense we only have five or six guys back, and on defense I'm the only one back who started every game. We have a lot of sophomores who didn't see anything in the future (when camp started) and thought, 'Why work our butts off?' But we've learned to play as a group," Kelly said. "Maybe last year we had more talent, but we didn't play together as well as a group. Last year we lost a lot of close games, four or five by one point, and I think this year we can win some of those. If we do, that could make a big difference."
Another challenge for Kelly will be holding on to his quarterback spot. Junior Chris Chelo, after a mediocre sophomore year, has emerged as a challenger for the starting job. But Kelly is pragmatic about the situation.
"Sure I would like to be quarterback, and he's pushing me," Kelly said. ''But it's making us both work harder. It's making us both play better, and that's good for the team. Whoever does better should play."
It takes a big man to think like that.