LEBANON — Communication is dynamic duo fuel. For Lebanon quarterback Isaiah Rodriguez and wide receiver Alex Rufe, it starts with a text.
“About every other day this summer,’’ according to Rodriguez, one would contact the other, and the message was always the same: Let’s go. At Lebanon’s practice field, Rodriguez would throw and Rufe would catch, perfecting the delicate connection between a passer and his favorite target.
“It just makes our timing better,’’ Rufe said.
It was already pretty good. Rufe led the Lancaster-Lebanon League with 74 pass receptions last season. He has scored career touchdowns rushing, receiving, kickoff returning, punt returning, interception returning, and even passing.
Rufe was the L-L Section Three receiver of the year in 2019, and made all-section as a defensive back.
Rodriguez threw for 2,155 yards and 18 touchdowns last year. In two games this year, he’s completed 38 of 65 throws for 455 yards, three TDs and one interception. Most of those yards came last week, against an excellent Lampeter-Strasburg defense.
He’s clearly a different player now than a year ago. The comfort level in the pocket, under fire, is evident. The game has slowed down for him, and his understanding of Lebanon’s Air-Raid offense is at the senior-thesis level.
“It was just watching a lot of film and seeing what I was doing wrong,’’ he said. “I was rushing too much.
“All eyes are on you (at QB), so, yeah, if you make a mistake, everyone knows you made a mistake. If you win, you're the best player, and if you lose, it all comes on you.’’
He’s been groomed for this. Rodriguez is a three-year starter. In the summer of 2018, he attended the Manning (as is Peyton and Eli) Passing Academy.
Rodriguez’s head coach through last season, Gerry Yonchiuk, is considered an expert in the Air-Raid passing game pioneered by former University of Kentucky coach Hal Mumme, whose coaching tree includes Kliff Kingsbury (Arizona Cardinals) and Mike Leach (Mississippi State).
Yonchiuk is at Central York now, off to a 2-0 start with QB Beau Pribula, a Penn State recruit. But the new boss at Lebanon, Frank Isenberg, hasn’t changed the offense.
“Terminology, X's and O's, those type of things, Isaiah already gets it,’’ Isenberg said. “With everything going on around the team, that’s a big positive going forward.’’
Rufe’s pressure is of a different sort. He has to make big plays. In the Cedars’ signature win of last season, a 30-22 defeat of eventual Section Three champ Lancaster Catholic, the Crusaders had more total yards, more first downs and more time of possession.
Lebanon had Rufe, despite being double-teamed most of the way, turning a wide-receiver screen into a spectacular 51-yard touchdown, and a dump-off over the middle into a 39-yard play that set up another TD.
He admitted being disappointed that he was unable to light it up quite as much against L-S last week.
“I got my head down,’’ he said. “Mentally, I mean. I’ve got to realize everybody’s going to make mistakes.’’
They’re something of an odd couple. Rufe is 5-10, 160, while Rodriguez has classic pro-style QB dimensions, 6-5, 220. Rodriguez seems a bit more outgoing and talkative.
They’re being recruited by the same colleges — local Division IIIs and the Pennsylvania Conference, including Millersville. They share, with others, the ground floor of a rebuild of Lebanon football that began when the long-struggling program was moved by the L-L down to Section Three in 2018. They’ll face the other school that has taken that path, Ephrata, at War Memorial Field tonight.
The other thing they share that matters, at least to them, is intangible.
“We have the same work ethic,’’ Rodriguez said, “to just go out, almost every day, and try to get better ourselves, and make each other better.
“It’s been an amazing experience, playing with him, and it’s been fun.’’