When the Lancaster-Lebanon League football season gets going in a couple of months, there will be just one returning 1,000-yard rusher in the ranks.
That’s it. Uno.
And that player isn’t even a running back — it’s a quarterback: Cocalico vet signal-caller Noah Palm darted for 1,310 keeper yards last fall for the Eagles, who went all the way to the District Three Class 5A title tilt before falling to rival Manheim Central.
Palm was one of two L-L quarterbacks to rush for 1,000 yards last year; Solanco pitch-man du jour Joel McGuire scooted for 1,671 stripes, which led the league during the 10-game regular-season run.
In fact, 2018 wasn’t exactly a banner season for 1,000-yard backs in the L-L; only Wilson’s Elijah Morales (1,134), Manheim Central’s Tyler Flick (1,831), Cocalico’s Garrett Longenecker (1,259), Solanco’s Nafis Moore (1,051) and Donegal’s Zion Gibbs (1,082), plus Palm and McGuire, cracked the 1-grand club.
With 7-on-7 tuneups and team camps on-deck for the rest of the summer, the L-L is set to return 35 players who rushed for 200 or more yards last season.
We’ll list the league’s top returning rushers, by last year’s yardage total, and then share some nuggets about the returning kids below. So keep reading …
Noah Palm, rising senior, Cocalico — 139 carries, 1,310 yards, 9.4 avg., 28 TD
Jeff Harley, rising senior, Lancaster Catholic — 80 carries, 920 yards, 11.5 avg., 15 TD
John Dykie, rising junior, Garden Spot — 193 carries, 839 yards, 4.4 avg., 5 TD
Nick Yannutz, rising senior, Solanco — 164 carries, 839 yards, 5.1 avg., 3 TD
Luke Williams, rising sophomore, Elco — 182 carries, 800 yards, 4.4 avg., 4 TD
Bryan McKim, rising senior, L-S — 121 carries, 776 yards, 6.4 avg., 6 TD
Caden Keefer, rising senior, Ephrata — 176 carries, 760 yards, 4.3 avg., 15 TD
Trevor Porche, rising senior, Annville-Cleona — 92 carries, 750 yards, 8.2 avg., 6 TD
Jaden Floyd, rising senior, Manheim Township — 154 carries, 729 yards, 4.7 avg., 4 TD
Sean McTaggart, rising junior, L-S — 150 carries, 706 yards, 4.7 avg., 11 TD
Braden Bohannon, rising junior, Elco — 162 carries, 691 yards, 4.3 avg., 15 TD
Joseph Mejias-Rios, rising senior, Lebanon — 64 carries, 682 yards, 10.7 avg., 6 TD
Evan Simon, rising senior, Manheim Central — 122 carries, 661 yards, 5.4 avg., 12 TD
Tyler Cruz, rising senior, Cedar Crest — 131 carries, 658 yards, 5.0 avg., 13 TD
Junior Bours, rising senior, Annville-Cleona — 98 carries, 654 yards, 6.7 avg., 11 TD
Ronald Zahm, rising senior, Cocalico — 73 carries, 618 yards, 8.5 avg., 8 TD
Gavin Sullivan, rising senior, Lancaster Catholic — 121 carries, 604 yards, 5.0 avg., 5 TD
Jesse Martin, rising junior, Garden Spot — 132 carries, 593 yards, 4.5 avg., 5 TD
Nick Mattingly, rising senior, Octorara — 87 carries, 530 yards, 6.1 avg., 4 TD
Richard Greer, rising junior, Ephrata — 81 carries, 420 yards, 5.2 avg., 3 TD
Jansen Schempp, rising senior, Octorara — 71 carries, 414 yards, 5.8 avg., 6 TD
Avanti Lockhart, rising senior, Wilson — 63 carries, 408 yards, 6.5 avg., 4 TD
Colin Peters, rising senior, Hempfield — 106 carries, 408 yards, 3.9 avg., 4 TD
Evan Heilman, rising senior, Annville-Cleona — 47 carries, 403 yards, 8.6 avg., 3 TD
Alex Knapp, rising junior, L-S — 47 carries, 357 yards, 7.6 avg., 4 TD
Mike Trainor, rising sophomore, Octorara — 73 carries, 361 yards, 5.0 avg., 0 TD
Jordan Fernandez, rising senior, Elco — 73 carried, 349 yards, 4.8 avg., 5 TD
Booper Johnson, rising junior, Conestoga Valley — 63 carries, 331 yards, 5.3 avg., 1 TD
Alex Cruz, rising senior, Lancaster Catholic — 34 carries, 323 yards, 9.5 avg., 3 TD
Shaneef Carter, rising junior, Solanco — 42 carries, 278 yards, 6.6 avg., 2 TD
Nevin Roman, rising junior, Lancaster Catholic — 35 carries, 272 yards, 7.8 avg., 6 TD
Sean Bedessa, rising senior, Warwick — 45 carries, 253 yards, 5.6 avg., 5 TD
Luke McGinnis, rising senior, Columbia — 74 carries, 238 yards, 3.2 avg., 2 TD
Isaiah Stoltzfus, rising junior, Penn Manor — 66 carries, 230 yards, 3.5 avg., 0 TD
Josh Gibson, rising senior, Penn Manor — 47 carries, 211 yards, 4.5 avg., 2 TD
Eleven quarterbacks — Palm, Keefer, McTaggart, Bohannon, Simon, Bours, Sullivan, Martin, Mattingly, Schempp and Peters — grace the list, which speaks to the athleticism of those players and the offensive diversity being employed by O-coordinators around the league these days. Palm, for instance, will go for this third straight 1,000-yard rushing season this fall, and Palm, Bohannon and Bours all pilot Flexbone/Veer attacks.
As for the breakdown, section by section …
* Just seven top rushers are due back in Section One, and this section produced just one 1,000-yard back last year in Wilson’s Morales (1,134 yards in 12 games). Other top backs Nick Fucci from Warwick (888 yards) and Matt Heuston from Hempfield (710 yards) graduated, leaving Floyd and Cruz as the lone 600-yard rushers back from 2018. … Floyd is a hammer in Township’s pro-style attack, and he fits in nicely with strong-armed QB Harrison Kirk and his band of fleet wideouts. Floyd can get the tough yards up the gut, and help the Streaks chew clock in crunch time. He’s a durable kid. … Cruz had a nice breakout season for Cedar Crest last fall, finding the end zone 13 times. And with dual-threat QB Logan Horn gone, the Falcons might lean on Cruz to handle the rock a little more early in the season. … We’ll definitely have our eyes on Lockhart in West Lawn; he was supposed to get more carries last fall, but suffered an injury in the crossover game at Manheim Central and missed a good chunk of the season — allowing Morales to become a 1,000-yard feature back. Lockhart is a stud, and should be one of the top defensive players in the L-L this fall. … Peters returns to pilot Hempfield’s attack, and he was a 1,400-yard passer last fall. It seems like the Black Knights always have a dual-threat kid at the wheels, and Peters fits that mold perfectly for what Hempfield likes to do. … As mentioned, Warwick loses Fucci in the backfield, and he was a burner and a major multi-purpose weapon. So keep an eye on Bedessa to fill that role this time around. He was terrific in back-up duties last fall with five TD bursts for the Warriors’ high-flying offense. … And more good news for Penn Manor, which continues to take steps forward: Stoltzfus and Gibson are set to return to the backfield; they combined for nearly 500 yards last season, as the Comets’ offense picked up speed when Luke Braas got more consistent snaps.
* Yes, Section Two lost 1,000-yard backs Flick (Central's all-time leading rusher), McGuire, Longenecker and Moore to graduation. But the cupboard is hardly bare here. And we really like that four mobile quarterbacks are due back: Palm, who returns for his fourth season under center for Cocalico; McTaggart, who gets better every week out for L-S; Simon, Central’s D1 Rutgers recruit; and Martin, Garden Spot’s lightning-quick dual-threat. … Martin will have help in the backfield with Dykie due back in the mix for the Spartans. He had a breakout sophomore campaign with a couple of 100-yard nights. … Ditto for McTaggart, who will have McKim and Knapp — both multi-purpose threats who can run and catch — at his disposal. We’re thinking L-S’s powerful pistol Wing-T could do some serious damage this season. … Two gritty fullback-types to watch at Solanco: Yannutz already has a 1,000-yard season and last year’s 839-yard campaign under his belt, and he can pick up the tough yardage between the tackles. He’ll team with Carter — another powerful, keep-your-legs-churning back — in Solanco’s ground-and-pound Flexbone attack. The only question mark for the Mules: Who will replace McGuire, a three-year starter, behind center? … Palm will have a speed kid behind him in Zahm, who averaged 8.5 yards per pop last fall. And speaking of speed kids, CV’s Johnson can also motor, and he’ll team with returning QB Bradley Stoltzfus to give the Buckskins a nice 1-2 backfield punch.
* Section Three will have 17 top rushers from 2018 back in the fold. That’s a bunch. Four of those backs call Lancaster Catholic home, as speed-demon Harley, QB Sullivan, Cruz and Roman are all set to return for the Crusaders, who won the section title and went 10-0 in the regular season last fall. How much damage did that fearsome foursome do last season? Harley, Sullivan, Cruz and Roman combined for 2,119 rushing yards and 25 TD runs for Lancaster Catholic. Harley averaged a lights-out 11.5 yards per carry and Cruz went for 9.5 yards per pop. … There are five other quarterbacks on the list: Keefer at Ephrata has become quite the dual-threat weapon for the Mountaineers; he was a 1,000-yard passer and a 760-yard rusher last fall for Ephrata, when coach Kris Miller’s crew went 5-5 and snapped the streak. Keefer will have Greer, a shifty playmaker, at his disposal. … Bohannon took Elco’s new-look Veer by the horns and firmly established himself as one of the top dual-threat players in the circuit, leading the Raiders to eight wins and a D3 playoff trip. He’ll have a pair of returning running threats behind him in Williams (who had a bust-out 800-yard freshman season) and Fernandez, who combined for 1,149 yards and nine scores. … Bours is yet another dual-threat kid for A-C; he also has a firm grip on the Dutchmen’s Veer attack, and he’ll benefit from the return of Porche and breakaway threat Heilman behind him. … Octorara went with a 2-QB system in its maiden L-L voyage last fall, and Mattingly and Schempp both did a lot of damage, be it in the passing, running and/or receiving department. On the ground, they combined for 944 yards and 10 TD keepers. Look for Trainor to get more touches in the backfield for the Braves this fall; he had a terrific two-way breakout ninth-grade season in Atglen last fall, and you’ll be hearing his name a lot more moving forward. … Lebanon had a 5-5 season in its Section Three debut, and Mejias-Rios was a key cog in the Cedars’ resurgence. He broke off 10.7 yards per carry, giving Lebanon a legit, heavy duty ball-carrier in an attack that also featured 1,900-yard passer Isaiah Rodriguez. … Columbia also had a nice bounce-back season, going from zero wins to three. And McGinnis was one of the Tide’s top playmakers. They’ll need him, along with QB Matt McCleary, to make even more plays this time around.
Tomorrow: The top returning receivers in the L-L League.