High school football preview: Union/AC Valley Falcon Knights.
(Photo courtesy of Paul Burdick)
Union/AC Valley Falcon Knights
Head Coach: Brad Dittman (3rd Season)
Last Season: 7-4, Tied for First in D9 Small School Division
Key Returners: Kylar Culbertson (480 rushing yds.), Caden Rainey (564 receiving yds.), and Eli Penny (10 tackles for a loss)
The Union/AC Valley Falcon Knights are primed to make another run at the title following a great 2019, when they captured a share of the D9 Small School Division Title after a dramatic upset win over Redbank Valley. Returning most of their key players, including three strong rushers, the Falcon Knights will look to continue to build their brand of tough, gritty football. Union/AC Valley also returns a mature defense that has the skill and speed to control the line of scrimmage against larger opponents.
What to Watch For
After a solid second season in charge of the Falcon Knights, head coach Brad Dittman and his experienced squad are looking to build upon their momentum as a program. The COVID-19 pandemic has not stopped Union/AC Valley’s pre-season preparation, as the student-athletes have remained eager and ready to get to work.
“These guys have been pretty flexible. They’ll practice anytime we ask them to practice, and they want to play anytime they’re called upon to play,” said Dittman, who also emphasized the importance of sticking to the new pandemic protocols: “We preach to them if they want to continue to play, we have to do our part. They all they believe in that.”
The Falcon Knights’ rushing attack was the focal point of their offense last season, and Dittman is excited to have a full stable of backs again this season. Dittman lauded his squad’s overall athleticism: “We’re really excited about our athletes, [both] the amount of athletes and the depth that we have.” Spreading out carries was key to Union/AC Valley’s success last season, and continuing to split carries should help keep the Falcon Knights fresh late in games.
One notable departure from last year’s team is starting quarterback Luke Bowser, who graduated after a 15 touchdown senior season. Last year’s backup quarterback Tanner Merwin is competing with up-and-comer Bailey Crissman for the starting job, and Dittman is high on the prospects of both quarterbacks. Dittman describes Merwin as, “an athlete with speed and quickness,” who has “worked hard on his throwing this year.” Meanwhile, Crissman has a “strong arm and can make every throw on the field” and is also further “working on his technique and throwing motion.” The Falcon Knights have faith in both options under center, and the coaching emphasis on throwing technique should allow both players to make big strides in their development.
The Falcon Knights won a few close games last season, including wins against Sheffield and Redbank Valley. Dittman pointed to his team’s “mental toughness” as the reason why they were able to pull out those big wins: “They were able to handle the adversity and not get too far ahead of themselves. They didn’t get too high; they didn’t get too low; they just played ball. We played 48 minutes of football and doing that enabled us to win close games.” Dittman also applauded the “quickness and toughness” of his offensive line, who, despite regularly being outsized, was constantly able to control the line of scrimmage. Union/AC Valley’s mental and physical strength should make them a problem for any team they face this season.
On the defensive end, the Falcon Knights return most of their starters and key tacklers, vital for a team that produced 17 turnovers last season. Dittman believes that the defense can further improve upon their strong 2019: “We’re hoping to progress even further on all the turnovers that we had on defense, be even better and more physical in our defense.” Physicality will be key in emulating last year’s success, and the Falcon Knights look to possess the determination to get the job done.
Union/AC Valley had grit and determination last season, and this year they add battle-tested experience to the mix. Possessing great athleticism and toughness, the Falcon Knights have the ability to hang with any team, and the mental toughness and resilience needed to finish the job.
Catch the full interview with head coach Brad Dittman below.