The super league touched down in Lancaster on Friday.
The 24 teams of the Lancaster-Lebanon League and the 13 teams of the Berks League notched their first official meeting, and the 37 squads’ 2022 high school football season officially got underway with a media day event hosted by LNP | LancasterOnline — another first for the newly merged league — at its 101 N. Queen St. office in Lancaster.
The teams filtered through the building in order of their sections throughout the day. The event was a chance for everyone to put faces to names in the renewed league. In turn, coaches and athletes were interviewed, photographed and caught on video by several news outlets. In between, the players mingled a bit — there definitely were a few competitive jibes tossed around, as well as talk of fantasy football between a couple of the Wyomissing and Schuylkill Valley players — and even played arcade games situated in the main gathering area.
The Manheim Township contingent, led by senior quarterback Hayden Johnson, thought the addition of the new Berks teams is definitely “cool.” Johnson said he was looking forward to playing Reading in Section One this season, a sentiment his teammate Austin Day, a center and middle linebacker, agreed with.
“We scout Hempfield, Wilson every year; it’s kind of like the same thing,” Day said. “We’re seniors now so we’ve been doing the same thing for a while, but (with) Reading coming in, we don’t really know them that much. So it’s gonna be fun, just scouting them out.”
For Section Four’s Octorara, the offseason brought a serious challenge when player Mason Ellingsworth was involved in a tractor accident and had to have both of his legs amputated above the knees. Now in a leadership role he is embracing, Ellingsworth said Friday that his recovery has been going “great” — and that he hasn’t felt it has been really challenging.
“(I’m) just waiting for practice to start so I can go out and pick these boys up everyday and just keep them going,” Ellingsworth said.
Coach Jed King is ready for his Braves to hit the field as well and is prepared for the challenge that Section Four will bring.
“It’s interesting because we’re playing like the District Three playoffs in our section,” the coach noted. “Because there were seven teams that made the playoffs last year that are now in our same section.”
King is particularly looking forward to playing new section foe Berks Catholic. Octorara used to scrimmage the Saints, and King has a friend on the Saints’ staff.
‘That much more fun’
Over in Section Two, everything has changed for Conestoga Valley. Although the players are used to the L-L League, there will not only be three new Berks opponents for them this season in Exeter, Governor Mifflin and Muhlenberg, but they will also be under the direction of new head coach Jon Scepanski, who is coming from the York-Adams League. For Scepanski, the league merger is just another new experience to go along with his career move.
“I had to change no matter what,” he said. “For the players ... they’re gonna get to play some schools that they’ve probably heard about or seen on the Friday night show on TV. It brings a challenging schedule, but also an exciting one.”
Conestoga Valley’s Nick Tran suffered a mid-season injury last year, but he was present for media day, and Scepanski said Tran is ready to go.
At Warwick, senior center and defensive end Ethan Zipko said he is excited about the shakeup in opponents as well.
“We play the same team over and over again every year,” Zipko said. “Now that we play different teams, it’s just something new. Obviously we don’t know a ton about every single team we play, it just makes it that much more fun.”
Zipko noted that he is most anticipating new rivalries starting between Warwick — another Section Two squad — and the new teams coming into the league.
As for the newbies, Exeter is prepared to take its position in the expanded league.
“We played Manheim Central last year, (and) we scrimmaged Warwick, so we have a little taste of what to expect,” Exeter head coach Matt Bauer said. “We’re just thankful to be in this situation and excited to have the opportunity.”
Exeter, for the first time in the 14 years Bauer has coached, is unsure about who its starting quarterback will be. The coach said he won’t know until after the Eagles’ first scrimmage later this month. In the running, Bauer said, are senior Mason Rotelli and Joey Schlaffer, who has played multiple positions. Gavin Miller and Riley Martinez were also mentioned as “nice underclassmen.”
Lucas Palange, a for the Eagles, noted he is anticipating facing “crosstown rival” Governor Mifflin in Shillington.
“We want to get another rematch with Mifflin, crosstown rival,” Palange said. “Excited to play them again.”
‘Show our potential’
About 20 minutes from Mifflin is Reading — which, like Mifflin, played an L-L schedule in the past and is now returning to Section One. The Red Knights players, to a man, expressed their eagerness to compete this season in the revamped landscape.
“It’s something new to us; this is something that we’ve never really had,” Red Knights senior quarterback Amier Burdine said Friday. “Our coaches talk about it because our coaches played in it back then (and) they said they loved it. So hopefully we (can) come in and do the same.”
It should be noted that Reading won an L-L League section championship in 2003, their final season in the league previously. Although these are all now vastly different programs since that time, the memory of that prior success still lingers.
At Twin Valley, all three player representatives Friday — Masen Ketner, Nick Harris and Kellen Styer — believe the highlight of this union is the new opportunities that will be afforded to them on the field.
“The expansion, I think it’s a great way for us to show our potential,” said Styer, a senior QB, “and to show that Berks County teams are good enough to play with some of the bigger schools.”