2018 was a wonderful season for fifth year head coach Justin Geisinger and his Knight football team.
In fact, it was the most successful season in school history.
After finishing the regular season 5-5, JPII hit the road for Chattanooga to take on the Baylor Red Raiders.
It was apparent early on in the football game who the better team was as JPII reeled off a thrilling 49-28 victory - the school’s first ever playoff win.
Unfortunately, the season ended the following week with an unfamiliar opponent in MUS - now moving to the West side of the state in Division II - the Owls will become a familiar program the Knights will compete against each season.
“The East/Middle region is a very tough region, maybe the toughest in the state,” head coach Justin Geisinger said. “But after having watched film, and seeing other teams play it became apparent quickly they are a very strong region as well. There is a lot of really good football being played out West and a lot of talented players are making it to some high Division I programs. We don’t expect the change to be any different, we expect week in and week out to be tested and we just have to be prepared to play. It will be very similar to what we got used to in the Middle/East Region.
“It will be new and interesting and we are excited about that challenge,” he continued. “It will be a really big challenge for us and we are excited to see how that goes. All that said we worry about us and our process and keep our sights on what we do and not worry about what we can’t control.”
Still, expectations are very high for the Knights program. Coach Geisinger won’t come out and say it, so I’ll say it for him - the playoffs are the goal and maybe even more than just making it the 11th game of the season - but winning a few games in the playoffs.
“Expectations are high,” he said. “We don’t talk about wins or losses, and I know that may sound really cheesy but we are really worried about our process and how our kids are buying into the process. I think that is the reason we have had success lately, the way we approach every week as a new opportunity to get better. Our mission is to live and compete like Christ in everything that we do and we always want to be the best version of ourself whether that is on the field or off. I think once you do those little things each day you give yourself a chance to accomplish those bigger goals that you may have. We all want those things but there are steps you have to take in order to get to where you want to go.”
With 15 seniors on the roster, Geisinger is looking for that group to lead the 76 men both in the classroom and on the field this fall.
His most experienced group, his wide receivers, are littered with seniors.
“There is no doubt that wide receiver is our most veteran group,” he said.
Getting a lot of buzz this offseason following his commitment to the Air Force Academy, Rory White will be joined by Brenden Keaton and Jacob Lann.
“Rory is a gifted player with his size and ball skills while Brandon is a three-year starter for us that brings a lot to the table. Jacob has done a really good job with his reps but also we have Cade Marino who is a big kid that we are hoping to get some game experience.”
Sawyer Watts will take over as quarterback for the Knights, replacing Ben Nixon who was a two-year starter for JPII.
Talented running back and Super 22 member, Antwan Roberts will get the bulk of the carries but look for Liam Alterbern, Pius Onaghinioi and Cole Shaver to get touches here and there to spell Roberts.
Up front the offensive line has some question marks, but that is Geisinger’s area of expertise so I expect this group to be coached up well.
John Martinez is the most experienced player and he will hold down the right guard position. Zach Rush will start at center, and the rest will battle it out for the other positions as Logan Penhollow, Max Huffine, Jett Martinez, Cade McDonald all are working hard this offseason.
“It’s all about finding the best fit,” Geisinger said. “We have our work cut out for us to develop those guys - especially over the next three weeks before our first game.”
Jay Wright and Brooks Heagarty will play tight end for the Knights as well as Jack Ottman.
Defensive line will be another key position for the Knights this year according to Geisinger as the team has “no real depth”.
“We are trying to get guys to step so that our offensive line guys don’t have to play as much both ways,” Geisinger said.
Logan Penhollow, John Martinez, Jack Dyer and Jarrett Lucombe will all get playing time on the defensive line.
Linebacker should be a strong position for the Knights defense heading into 2019 with Jacob Lann and Pius Onaghinioi playing outside backer and Jay Wright and Brooks Heagarty manning inside backer positions. Also looking to get playing time is Cade Marino and Cole Shaver.
Patrolling the secondary will be Devvan Darden, who led the team in interceptions last year, will be joined by Jackson Cook.
Brandon Shockley, Tim Lark will start at corner with the hopes of having more kids step up in that position to create competition.
Andrew Southard will handle place kicking duties while Reilly Zahn will punt for the Knights.
Returning kicks will be a slew of guys that include Brendan Keaton, Rory White, Brandon Shockley and Antwan Roberts.
Geisinger would not say how many wins, or how far in the playoffs the Knights needed to go for 2019 to be successful, but instead insisted it was all about getting every ounce of potential out of his players.
“This may sound really cheesy, but for 2019 to be successful when I look back, if I can honestly say that we as coaches got everything out of our players then that is all you can ask for.”
Justin Geisinger, 6th season, 22-34
Brian Sneed - DC
Matt Hanson - OL
Matt Clemens - QB
David Scaggs - WR
Jake Lancaster - WR
Brandon Peel - TE
Andrew Park - RB
Steve Southard - DL
Ladarius Banks - DL
Steve Glass - ILB
Christian Carpenter - OLB
Michael Henningan - S
Alvin Fite - CB
Antwan Roberts (RB)
Brendan Keaton (WR)
Rory White (WR)
Brooks Heagarty (TE/LB)
Jay Wright (LB)
John Martinez (OL/DL)
Jacob Lann (WR/LB)
Devvan Darden (S)