Ches-Mont League 2017 Preview and Team-by-Team Breakdowns

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PETE BANNAN DIGITAL FIRST MEDIA Great Valley head coach Dan Ellis talks to players following practice.

Size up front will help Patriots grow throughout season

EAST WHITELAND >> It may be a stale refrain, but Great Valley always seems to be chasing Ches-Mont American football rivals Unionville and West Chester Rustin. The Patriots are 2-16 against those two since 2006, and will have to reverse the trend this fall in order to achieve a division title in 2017.

The good news is head coach Dan Ellis may have the personnel to get it done. Great Valley certainly has the beef up front, on both sides of the ball, but there are some question marks at the skill positions — particularly at quarterback. 128w, 32w, 751w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px">

“Every day in workouts we say: ‘30 seconds against Rustin and 30-yards against Unionville,’” said four-year starting lineman Xander Utecht. “It all comes down to little things. We know that we were so close last season.”

Ellis agrees: “Last year we lost to both Rustin and Unionville at the end of the fourth quarter,” he added. “The kids have worked hard in the offseason to make sure we are putting ourselves into position to win against those guys.”

With Utecht (6-foot-2, 270 pounds) leading the way, the Pats are stacked in the trenches. Fellow seniors Grayson Jenkins (5-7, 200), Jack McDaid (6-4, 220) and Cade Reat (6-0, 250) are all multi-year starters on offense. 

“We will put the ball behind those guys,” Ellis said. “We have a bunch of guys up front who have played a lot of football. And when you’re breaking in a new quarterback and runners, it’s nice to be able to rely on the big guys up front.

“No matter what happens, that’s where the game is won and lost.”

It’s now up to Ellis to groom a new signal caller, but that’s what the former Downingtown High and University of Virginia star quarterback specializes in. And he has a pair of intriguing prospects in senior Damien Carter and junior Jake Trevost.

“Damien is more of a runner and Jake is more of a stereotypical quarterback,” Ellis said. “We will adjust based on our personnel.”

Great Valley 2017 Schedule

Junior receiver Josh Burgess missed a big chunk of last season with an injury, but he is poised for a breakout year, and Ellis expects tight end Nate Graef will be more of a threat. And at running back, Great Valley may use as many as four bodies, but senior Alex Crouse will be the first.

“We have one of biggest and most experienced offensive lines in memory,” Crouse said. “These guys make it easy for a guy like me. It’s the framework of our team and we are building around them.”

Similarly, the defense is built from the inside-out. There is depth up front, and all three linebackers — Jenkins, Crouse and McDaid — have starting experience. McDaid, however, has moved from defensive end to middle linebacker.

“Our front seven is our strength on defense,” Ellis said. “They will not be in awe on a Friday night. They’ve all played in big games.”

Starters Mark Neri and O’Donnell are back in the secondary. Josh Burgess and Owen Banavitch have played but will now assume larger roles.

“We have a lot of speed everywhere,” Utecht said. “Our whole (defensive) line returns and we have one of the fastest group of linebackers. We will fly around to the ball.”

Ellis is hoping that depth will help mitigate the fact that the Patriots front seven is dotted with two-way starters like Utecht, Jenkins, McDaid and Crouse.

“We really have to develop some of our kids who are on the bubble of starting to get them to where we know they will eventually be,” Ellis explained. “Hopefully we can fast-forward that in order to develop our depth.”

When Ellis talks Pats listen

As the position coach as well as head coach, Ellis understands that quarterback production is going to play a big role in whether Great Valley can challenge for a division crown. The Pats’ spread offense is more complicated than most, but Ellis has extensive experience as a player and as the head coach at previous stops at Springfield (Delco) and West Chester East.

“I think it helps having played quarterback and coached them for so long,” Ellis said. “I know where they are and where they’ve been. There is going to be a growing period for any young quarterbacks.

“I’ve been blessed as a coach with some really good quarterbacks, including Rob Geiss the last two years.”

Ellis, however, downplayed the notion that his words may carry more weight due to his wildly successful playing career that included a state title at Downingtown as well as being a multi-year starter at Virginia.

“I don’t know if they listen more to me — these guys weren’t even alive when I played football,” he said. “They know I was a player, but it’s hard to fathom that they would recognize me as a player.”

Crouse added: “He knows what he’s doing across the board. We play very close attention to what he says. We are very lucky here.”

Experienced Utecht

Utecht is undoubtedly a two-way anchor for Great Valley, and it would be impossible for him to enter his senior year with any more experience. That’s because he became entrenched as a varsity starter as a freshman back in 2014 — which was before Ellis became the Pats’ head coach.

“Most of (the linemen) have started since we were sophomores,” Utecht pointed out. “We are bigger, faster and stronger and now we can work on the little things.

“We think we can carry this team, up front on both sides of the ball. As long as we do our job, we think we can be successful.”

Utecht’s father, Alex, played college football at William & Mary. He was a team captain in 1992, and the Tribe went 9-2.

“We play a lot of guys up front, especially on the defensive line. We are very fortunate, up front on both sides of the ball, to have guys who have played a lot of football.”