Before we can talk about which quarterbacks are due back in Lancaster-Lebanon League football circles this fall, we must first mention the talented crop of signal-callers that graduated last spring.
What a group that was:
Manheim Central’s Evan Simon headed off to Rutgers in January as the second-leading passer in L-L League history. Check out his final jaw-dropping numbers in his three seasons as the Barons’ starter behind center: 436 of 738 for 8,078 yards with 86 touchdown tosses — plus two district titles and a trip to the PIAA finals. Simon had three 2,500-yard passing seasons in a row, and he was a three-time all-state performer. Only Lancaster Catholic grad Kyle Smith has more air yardage (with 8,545 stripes) in L-L League annals than Simon, who wholeheartedly earned himself a spot on Central’s QB Mount Rushmore (gotta think Smoker and Nagy are also on there, yes?).
Cocalico’s Noah Palm, well, what’s left to say about him? All he did last fall was put an unbelievable capper on his four-year run in Denver by passing for 1,014 yards, rushing for 1,627 yards and accounting for 47 total touchdowns as the Eagles won the District 3 Class 5A title. Palm, who is headed off to the University of New Hampshire, was named 5A Player of the Year by three media outlets, after becoming just the 10th player in L-L League history to pass and rush for 1,000 yards in a single season. It's dizzying how many postseason accolades Palm collected for his efforts last fall. If you have an hour or so, plug his name into the search box at the top of this page.
A trio of 2,000-yard passers also moved on: Columbia’s Matt McCleary (2,580 yards, league-leading 32 TD passes), Manheim Township’s Harrison Kirk (2,467 yards, 24 TD) and Conestoga Valley’s Bradley Stoltzfus (2,066 yards, 22 TD) all graduated, plus strong-armed 1,700-yard passer Ethan Borcky from Northern Lebanon.
Four dual-threat wizards also graduated: Lancaster Catholic’s Gavin Sullivan, Ephrata’s Caden Keefer, Annville-Cleona’s Junior Bours and Solanco’s Grady Unger are gone. And things will look different at Octorara, where Jansen Schempp and Nick Mattingly, who shared the Braves’ QB duties the last two years, both graduated.
At least 12 L-L League teams will be breaking in new starting quarterbacks this fall: Hempfield, Manheim Township, Cocalico, Annville-Cleona, Ephrata, Conestoga Valley, Northern Lebanon, Manheim Central, Solanco, Octorara, Columbia and Lancaster Catholic. We’ll get to those camp battles as the summer progresses.
So who’s due back? Glad you asked.
The most intriguing returnee is Warwick rising senior Joey McCracken, who had a whopper, all-state 2019 campaign with 2,900 air yards and 27 TD strikes, as the powder-keg Warriors won 10 games and went to the D3 5A semifinals. But McCracken suffered an ACL injury during basketball season and had to fight through surgery and that ensuing rehab. According to his social media account, McCracken is looking and feeling good, and he has been working out — ahead of schedule. Ah, youth. We’ll see how he looks when teams get back on the field for heat acc on Aug. 10.
Another intriguing story is at Lampeter-Strasburg, where rising senior Sean McTaggart — the Pioneers’ whirling dervish dual-threat machine — is set to return after he suffered an ACL injury in the season opener last fall. McTaggart announced on his social media this week that he has been cleared for all football contact drills, so he should get plenty of reps behind center when L-S hits the field. Rising senior Connor Nolt, who passed for 1,800 yards and helped the Pioneers win the D3 4A title last fall, is also due back, so L-S is A-OK in the QB depth department. A lot of eyes on McTaggart’s knee; if he comes back 100 percent, look out. He was ticketed for a bust-out 2019 season, and he should have plenty of college scouts poking around this fall — McCracken, too.
Also wanted to mention Lebanon rising senior Isaiah Rodriguez at the top. He’s a physical specimen, and is coming off a breakout, 2,100-yard, 18-TD season last fall, when the Cedars went to the Eastern Conference 5A playoffs. Rodriguez recently picked up an offer from Albright, and we’re anxious to see how he does without QB whisperer Gerry Yonchiuk in his ear; Lebanon’s former skipper left to take the job at Central York, and Frank Isenberg now has the keys to the Cedars’ program. Here’s thinking he won’t tinker too much, and Lebanon will again ride Rodriguez’s big right arm as much as possible — especially with all-star WR Alex Rufe due back on the flanks.
Here are the top returning L-L League quarterbacks due back this season, listed by total passing yards compiled in 2019:
Joey McCracken, rising senior, Warwick — 183 of 294 for 2,912 yards, 27 TD, 6 INT
Isaiah Rodriguez, rising senior, Lebanon — 172 of 301 for 2,155 yards, 18 TD, 8 INT
Conner Nolt, rising senior, L-S — 100 of 220 for 1,811 yards, 17 TD, 8 INT
Chris Danz, rising senior, Cedar Crest — 102 of 202 for 1,672 yards, 15 TD, 9 INT
Kaleb Brown, rising senior, Wilson — 107 of 173 for 1,430 yards, 23 TD, 7 INT
Patrick Gilhool, rising junior, Elizabethtown — 100 of 187 for 1,298 yards, 9 TD, 6 INT
Luke Braas, rising senior, Penn Manor — 104 of 214 for 1,230 yards, 15 TD, 10 INT
Jesse Martin, rising senior, Garden Spot — 81 of 181 for 1,088 yards, 9 TD, 8 INT
Trent Weaver, rising senior, Donegal — 62 of 98 for 894 yards, 12 TD, 5 INT
Braden Bohannon, rising senior, Elco — 31 of 61 for 486 yards, 6 TD, 2 INT
Matthew Remash, rising sophomore, McCaskey — 35 of 108 for 415 yards, 2 TD, 8 INT
Josh Rudy, rising sophomore, Elizabethtown — 17 of 39 for 302 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Nate Fisher, rising senior, Pequea Valley — 21 of 77 for 266 yards, 2 TD, 5 INT
Sean McTaggart, rising senior, L-S — 10 of 15 for 154 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT (prior to injury)
More notables …
Bohannon was an all-state pick for Elco; he won’t wow you with his passing stats, but he rushed for 1,500 yards and 19 scores last fall, guiding the Raiders to the D3 playoffs for the second year in a row. He’s a major dual-threat weapon, and superb defensively at safety for Elco, which will be angling for its third postseason bid in a row. … Speaking of multi-purpose quarterbacks, Brown at Wilson (1,430 passing yards, 773 rushing yards, 27 total TD) and Martin at Garden Spot (1,088 passing yards, 561 rushing yards, 14 total TD) can both scoot and can make plays when flushed. … Three strong-armed throwers to keep an eye on: Danz at Cedar Crest, Gilhool at E-town and Braas at Penn Manor. Danz made a nice splash in his first season as the Falcons’ full-time starter last fall; Gilhool has some nice pocket presence; and Braas can really fling it downfield and make plays on his feet. … Weaver is a different kind of QB operating Donegal’s Wing-T attack, which is predicated on fundamental blocking and predominantly running plays. But he completed a cool 63 percent of his passes when the Indians went up top last season. … Fisher is a fascinating story at Pequea Valley; he never played football before last year, yet carved out some major time behind center for the Braves. It’s easy to root for a kid like that. … Rudy also got some time for E-town when Gilhool was on the shelf with an injury, so the Bears have some depth at QB. … McCaskey played multiple kids at QB last fall, and Remash ended up attempting the most passes, so he could be atop the depth chart heading into camp. Keep an eye on that, Tornado Alley.