There’s change in the air at Northamp­ton High

The Morning Call - - SPORTS - By Keith Groller Keith Groller can be reached at 610-820-6740 or at [email protected]

Northamp­ton High’s resur­gence in foot­ball has had me­dia, stat peo­ple, his­to­ri­ans and peo­ple who care about the pro­gram go­ing through the record books for the last time this or that hap­pened.

Konkrete Kids coach Kyle Haas said when Northamp­ton won eight games last sea­son he re­minded the se­niors the pro­gram hadn’t had a win­ning sea­son since they were in sec­ond grade.

The last time the K-Kids won a league cham­pi­onship, none of the cur­rent play­ers were born.

With a win over Allen Fri­day night at Al Er­dosy Sta­dium, Northamp­ton will clinch a share of the EPC North ti­tle and could win the crown out­right with a vic­tory over visit­ing Po­cono Moun­tain East Oct. 18.

While ac­knowl­edg­ing there’s still plenty left to do be­fore the Konkrete Kids of­fi­cially re­turn to their glory days as an elite pro­gram, Haas and the play­ers feel a tran­si­tion is un­der­way.

The cul­ture of Northamp­ton foot­ball is chang­ing for the bet­ter and while many at­tribute the K-Kids’ 14-5 record over the past two sea­sons strictly to go­ing from the Eastern Penn­syl­va­nia Con­fer­ence’s rugged South Di­vi­sion to the softer North, Haas be­lieves it goes deeper than that.

“I credit last year’s se­niors and this year’s se­nior group,” Haas said. “They stuck it out and weath­ered the storm. There are a lot of kids in that school who played foot­ball when they were younger and stopped play­ing be­cause they heard peo­ple say they’re not any good. These kids per­se­vered.”

That’s why a cham­pi­onship of any form would be spe­cial for the 19 se­niors on the ros­ter.

Play­ers like Tyrese Bran­don, Jared Russell, Nick Ca­iazzo, Ma­son Gun­kle, Spencer Cole, Aidan Kromer, Dario Wal­nock, Josh Gay­check, and Tyler Walling have been in­volved with Northamp­ton foot­ball start­ing with the youth feeder teams. They have seen the rough times and now en­joy bet­ter times.

“When we were fresh­men and sopho­mores, we went through a re­ally bad slump,” Gay­check said. “When Coach Haas came in, we knew we had to be com­mit­ted and buy in right away and we have.”

The per­cep­tion of the pro­gram, even within the halls of the high school, has changed.

“When your high school foot­ball team is good, it’s al­ways a fun time,” Gay­check said. “Last year was the first time we were in big games. Now, we have more ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Haas, the grand­son of late Hall of Fame foot­ball coach Fritz Hal­facre, had ex­pe­ri­enced suc­cess as an as­sis­tant coach in South Carolina and at lo­cal stops such as Al­len­town Cen­tral Catholic, Sal­is­bury, Free­dom, Em­maus and Beth­le­hem Catholic. He won a Dis­trict 11 ti­tle as an in­terim head coach at Bec­ahi in 2016.

He ad­mits that when he was look­ing at op­por­tu­ni­ties to be­come a per­ma­nent head coach, Northamp­ton wasn’t ini­tially high on his list be­cause the pro­gram had strug­gled for a long time.

“The more I thought about it, the more I thought it would be a great chal­lenge to start fresh and see if you could build some­thing at Northamp­ton, which would be a great ac­com­plish­ment,” Haas said. “I knew I wasn’t go­ing to be able to do it un­less Mike Feifel, Dan Ken­dra, Shawn Daig­nault, Bob Kohler and a bunch of other guys joined me. I needed good guys to im­ple­ment a qual­ity pro­gram.”

Most of his as­sis­tants had won with other pro­grams, but like Haas, they took on the chal­lenge of a pro­gram that hadn’t had much suc­cess in re­cent years.

“I think the chal­lenge was al­lur­ing to them,” Haas said. “It was one more chance for some of the guys to go out and prove one more time how good they are. We all came from dif­fer­ent places. Feifel and Chris Gor­don were the only two who had coached to­gether be­fore at South­ern Le­high. Yet, we all get along amaz­ingly well.”

The big­gest chal­lenge was in­still­ing a mind­set that cham­pi­onships start in the weight room.

“The first thing we said was that the kids would com­mit to the weight room and we wouldn’t tol­er­ate ex­cuses and we’d hold them ac­count­able,” Haas said. “We de­cided that we’d coach the kids up and hope they’d have some suc­cess to re­in­force ev­ery­thing we’re preach­ing to the kids.”

Haas doesn’t apol­o­gize for the pro­gram shift­ing to the North Di­vi­sion and he’s happy Northamp­ton will re­main in that di­vi­sion for two sea­sons after this one.

“It gave us time to catch up in the weight room and gave us an op­por­tu­nity to have some suc­cess, which re­in­forced ev­ery­thing we’re try­ing to do,” Haas said. “Now, we’re at a point where the pro­gram is self-run be­cause the kids know what the ex­pec­ta­tions are. We have tal­ented kids com­ing up and when they get here they will know what’s ex­pected of a Northamp­ton foot­ball player.”

Even if K-Kids win the next two games to claim the di­vi­sion, the Week 10 game against White­hall will be im­por­tant be­cause Northamp­ton hasn’t beaten a cur­rent mem­ber of the EPC South since beat­ing Bec­ahi 35-6 in Septem­ber 2012.

“We want to get one of those South teams for once,” Cole said. “It’ll show how far we’ve come and show we can com­pete with those South teams.”

A good show­ing in the Dis­trict 11 6A play­offs would pro­vide fur­ther val­i­da­tion.

“This is just the be­gin­ning,” Russell said. “It’s just go­ing to keep build­ing up from here.”

AMY SHORTELL/THE MORN­ING CALL

The per­cep­tion of the Northamp­ton foot­ball pro­gram, even within the halls of the high school, has changed.

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