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Bangor football countdown to kickoff: Slaters aiming higher this season, plus 3 things to know

Allentown Morning Call logo Allentown Morning Call 8/13/2022 Tom Housenick, The Morning Call
Bangor linemen Jose Fuentes-Maldonado, left, and Ben Engle cool off during a break at Thursday's heat acclimation practice. © Rick Kintzel/The Morning Call/TNS Bangor linemen Jose Fuentes-Maldonado, left, and Ben Engle cool off during a break at Thursday's heat acclimation practice.

The celebration following Bangor’s 49-13 win last November over Saucon Valley for an Eastern Conference title was genuine.

It was the next step in the return to prominence for the Slaters’ program.

If Bangor is in that position again this November, there won’t be any celebrations because coach Paul Reduzzi, his staff, and players expect more.

“There is a lot of tradition here,” Reduzzi said, “but if you look in the gym there aren’t a lot of championships. It was important to these guys. In the spring, they asked when it was going up on the [football] banner.

“Districts is the way to states so that’s the goal, but for that team [Eastern Conference] was good. Our goal is districts this year. We don’t feel the same about Eastern Conference this year as last year. But last year it was a good stepping stone for us.”

Bangor’s title game victory capped a 7-4 season, its best since 2012. It has had just one winning season in that nine-year stretch.

Reduzzi has a wealth of returning talent to with go with a couple of first-year seniors who make the District 11 Class 4A tournament a realistic possibility.

Senior quarterback/safety Eric Striba, who rushed for 1,277 yards and 19 touchdowns and added 677 passing yards and seven scores, is among the top returnees.

The 6-foot, 185-pounder expects to provide more balance for the Slaters’ offense with more consistency in the passing game. That includes better reads and more patience.

“I feel a lot better looking across the field,” Striba said. “Last year, I looked at only two people. I’ve worked a lot in the weight room and my coaches said they’ve seen a progression. I’m better waiting in the pocket and looking for better angles on throws down the field.

“A lot of [my teammates] call me a running back. I’m going to try to get over what I [gained] last year. It’s what I’m good at. I’m not going to shy away from running the ball. But I want to do the same thing with my passing.”

Bangor graduated leader Kael Godshalk, who rushed for 1,357 yards and 19 scores. His relentlessness and toughness will be missed, but there are two athletes capable of stepping into the starting running back position in senior Ashton Kluska and junior Noah Hillis.

Head coach Paul Reduzzi is expecting the Slaters to pick up where they left off last season, which ended with an Eastern Conference title. © Rick Kintzel/The Morning Call/TNS Head coach Paul Reduzzi is expecting the Slaters to pick up where they left off last season, which ended with an Eastern Conference title.

Neither has started a game.

“Those two are not at Kael’s level athletically,” Reduzzi said, “but they are very athletic. Kael gave you maturity. These two have to grow into that. Both are good weight room kids, too. They work out with Striba.”

Greg Campbell, Tommy Aulisi (a first-year senior), Dylan Miller, M.J. Siu and Riley Stapp are among those who are developing a rapport with Striba in the passing game.

The line will be Bangor’s strength offensively. All five starters return, plus two others who started last year before suffering season-ending injuries.

Sam Woolverton, who broke his collarbone in Week 2, will move from guard to H-back. Senior Quin Karner missed all of last year after breaking his leg during summer basketball.

Seniors Ben Engle, Jose Fuentes, Jayden Vilmenay, and junior Dylan Krugh are among those returning up front. Three others — sophomores in Gianni Goodrich and Luke Rinaldi plus junior Parker Sandt are pushing the returning starters and give Bangor 10 reliable linemen.

“That’s the one thing I’ve always been high on,” Striba said. “I thought our senior year was going to be our year to win big because most everyone back on the line is a senior, except Krugh. He’s like a senior. He’s not the fastest, but he’s the toughest.”

“We made it so things are not overly complicated,” offensive coordinator Vinnie Andrews said. “That allows them to get off the ball and get into people. That’s what we preach up front.”

Three things to know about the Slaters

1. Defensive leaders

Miller and Campbell are among Bangor’s five returning defensive starters. They will continue to be the leaders from the linebacker and safety positions, respectively.

“Dylan looks at a lot a film and checks us in,” Reduzzi said. “In the Wilson game with all those crazy formations, we shut them down after the first series. He called every front and [Greg] Campbell called every coverage. [Campbell] understands formations. He has such good knowledge of the game.

“We’re going to surround them with as many kids who don’t have to go both ways, at least in the beginning. When we get into the meat of the schedule and start having injuries, I’m sure it will be different.”

Kluska (linebacker), Siu (defensive back) and Jacob Weaver (defensive end) are the other returning starters. Weaver had a breakout season in 2021 with 13 of his 41 tackles for loss, including 11 sacks, to go with six hurries and three fumble recoveries.

Campbell’s 64 tackles last year led the team. Siu and Kluska each had two interceptions.

2. New faces, new contributors

Aulisi is one of four first-year seniors who will at least provide depth on both sides of the ball. He and Braiden Pysher chose fall baseball two years ago over football, but have returned to the program this season. Both will get more than a token look on the field.

“Tommy would have started for us as a sophomore,” Reduzzi said. “He made it through the summer with us that year, but decided on fall ball. He’s looking at playing time on both sides of the ball [at receiver and defensive back]. Same for Braiden.”

Junior soccer players Landon Smith and Julia Pinter are battling for kicking duties.

3. Bangor’s schedule (at 7 p.m. unless noted)

Aug. 26: Palisades

Sept. 1: Jim Thorpe

Sept. 9: at Southern Lehigh

Sept. 16: at Saucon Valley

Sept. 23: Wilson

Sept. 30: at Pottsville

Oct. 7: Lehighton

Oct. 14: at Northwestern

Oct. 21: Blue Mountain

Oct. 29: at Pen Argyl, 1:30

Morning Call reporter Tom Housenick can be reached at 610-820-6651 or at thousenick@mcall.com

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