After one of the strangest seasons in L-L League football history last fall, the 2021 campaign — believe it or not — is on deck.
Media Day festivities for the 24 league teams are scheduled for late next week, and heat acclimatization practices are on tap for the week of Aug. 9.
Week 1 games are — gulp — set for Aug. 27.
There was some turnover in the coaching ranks in league circles this past offseason, with two new skippers signed on for this fall — a fall everyone is hoping will return to normalcy after everyone dealt with COVID-19 a year ago.
Truncated schedules, virus protocols, limited fans in the stands and live-streaming games became last year’s new normal. Will this season be different? Fingers and toes are crossed, across the board.
To get our 2021 preseason coverage started, here’s a look at the league’s coaches, with their resumes and some nuggets to get you set up for Aug. 27, which is right up around the bend.
CEDAR CREST FALCONS
Coach: Rob Wildasin.
Inside the numbers: It’s season No. 8 in Falcon Country for Wildasin, and Cedar Crest is 36-34 under his watch, including a 2-5 campaign last fall.
Nugget: Wildasin took the Falcons to the D3 playoffs in 2015, 2017 and 2019. Those were odd years on the calendar. Is a playoff trip in 2021 in the cards for Crest?
HEMPFIELD BLACK KNIGHTS
Coach: George Eager.
Inside the numbers: It’s Year 2 in the Eager Era in Landisville, and the Black Knights pulled into the station at 4-4 last fall in his rookie season on the gig.
Nugget: Eager, the former Manheim Township and F&M standout, got off to a hot start in his Hempfield debut, as the Knights were 3-1 out of the gates last fall. The loss was a heart-breaker OT setback against Exeter in Week 1, but the Knights bounced back with three wins in a row and they were in the thick of the Section 1 and postseason chases. Then the schedule got beefier; in consecutive weeks, Hempfield fell to Manheim Township, Wilson and Warwick, and they were out of the playoff hunt. Still, a steady debut for Eager, who is the second youngest coach in the league at the ripe old age of 34.
MANHEIM TOWNSHIP BLUE STREAKS
Coach: Mark Evans.
Inside the numbers: A couple of cool milestones on Evans’ resume. First, this is his 10th season in Neffsville, and he’s compiled a 73-31 mark for the Streaks, including a 5-2 season last fall, when Township had a bunch of games bagged down the stretch because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Second, Evans is now the longest tenured skipper in the L-L League; this will be his 24th season overall, including his first stop at Elco. Evans’ teams are 147-100, so he’ll hit the 150-win plateau with three victories this fall.
Nugget: A couple of streaks were snapped last year for Evans and his crew. First, Township saw its run of three straight Section 1 championships — shared or outright — end. Second, the Streaks missed out on the D3 playoffs after seven straight trips to the postseason. But here’s a positive: After an un-Township-like 0-2 start, the Streaks ripped off five straight wins and were sailing right along before — argh — COVID-19 ended their season prematurely.
McCASKEY RED TORNADO
Coach: Sam London.
Inside the numbers: This will be London’s third season in charge in Tornado Alley, and he’s still searching for his first W; McCaskey is 0-19 under his watch — but looking for bigger and better things this fall.
Nugget: London and his Tornado will lug a 26-game losing streak into its Week 1 tilt on Aug. 27 at Reading. McCaskey’s last victory was against — ta-da — Reading, a 34-17 dub vs. the Red Knights back on Sept. 7, 2018.
PENN MANOR COMETS
Coach: John Brubaker.
Inside the numbers: This will be Coach Bru’s seventh season in charge in Millersville, and the Comets are 11-47 under his tutelage, including a 2-6 finish last fall.
Nugget: Brubaker and his Comets are hoping to carry some momentum over from last season, when Penn Manor went 2-1 down the stretch, including a nip-and-tuck win over backyard rival Solanco, and a shutout W over McCaskey in their season finale.
Coach: Doug Dahms.
Inside the numbers: Make that 15 years in the books and season No. 16 on tap for Dahms, who has guided Wilson to a spiffy 161-31 mark. That includes a 6-1 record last fall, when the Bulldogs won their 28th L-L League section crown. Their only setback was a 48-7 loss against eventual D3-5A champ and state semifinalist Governor Mifflin in Week 1.
Nugget: Probably still a sore subject in West Lawn — sorry folks — but Dahms and his Bulldogs were denied a trip to the D3-6A playoffs last fall after Harrisburg had to forfeit its semifinal game because of COVID-19. Earlier that day — literally like two hours earlier — D3 officials announced that if a team had to forfeit because of the virus, no team would replace them in the bracket, so York, it turned out, advanced to the finale. The team replacing Harrisburg based on power rating would have been … Wilson. So yeah, that didn’t go over well in Bulldog Nation. FYI: This will be Dahms’ 46th season in Wilson’s program.
Coach: Bryan Strohl.
Inside the numbers: This is Strohl’s second season calling the shots in Denver, so he has his fingerprints all over the Eagles’ program. Cocalico went 4-4 in Strohl’s rookie season last fall, when he took over the reins from 130-game winner Dave Gingrich.
Nugget: No playoff trip last fall for the Eagles, one year after they won D3-5A gold and went to the state semifinals. Strohl and Co. were 3-1 and thinking postseason, but they ran into Warwick, Manheim Township and Hempfield down the stretch.
CONESTOGA VALLEY BUCKSKINS
Coach: Gerad Novak.
Inside the numbers: Novak is set for his seventh season in his second stint as the Bucks’ skipper, and for his 21st season overall in Witmer. After last season’s 6-2 finish, CV is 82-90 under Novak, who is now the second longest-tenured coach in the league, behind Evans (24th season) and Warwick’s Bob Locker (also set for his 21st season).
Nugget: Novak took the Bucks to some D3 title games earlier in his career, but 2020 might have been his best coaching performance. Consider: CV had its Week 1 game vs. Daniel Boone wiped out because of COVID-19, so he had to basically guide his troops through a second preseason camp — with a revamped offensive line and a rookie QB calling signals. Then came a lid-lifter 41-0 loss at eventual Section 2 champ Warwick and a 1-2 start. With Novak pushing the right buttons, CV responded with five wins in a row to finish the season, and the Bucks earned a second-place nod in Section 2 behind Warwick. Great stuff.
Coach: Andy Breault.
Inside the numbers: This will be Breault’s fourth season in the saddle for the Bears, and his teams are 12-17 overall, including a 2-6 finish last fall.
Nugget: Breault and his Bears never really found a rhythm last season, as E-town’s D was singed for 50-plus points three times. Have to believe the Bears will pick it up in the defensive department this time around, as E-town angles for its first D3 trip since 2018 — in Breault’s rookie campaign.
MANHEIM CENTRAL BARONS
Coach: Dave Hahn.
Inside the numbers: This will be season No. 7 for Hahn and yes, time is certainly flying. Central is a nifty 60-15 under his tutelage, including last year’s uncharacteristic 3-5 finish.
Nugget: Here’s thinking last year was very much a blip for the Barons, who suffered their first losing season since Central went 3-7 in … 1971. The Barons also suffered through their first three-game losing skid last year since 1977. Hahn, no doubt, will figure it out.
SOLANCO GOLDEN MULES
Coach: Tony Cox.
Inside the numbers: Cox is set for his eighth season in Quarryville, and the Mules are 40-32 under his watchful eyes — including a 3-4 finish last fall.
Nugget: Cox guided Solanco to the D3 playoffs in four of his first seven years on the job in Mule Country.
Coach: Bob Locker.
Inside the numbers: This will be season No. 21 in Lititz for Mr. Locker, the second longest tenured boss in the L-L League behind Mr. Evans over at Township. After an 8-1 finish last season — that one loss, you’ll recall, was an unfortunate forfeit in the D3-5A title game to Governor Mifflin — the Warriors are 106-102 under Locker.
Nugget: The senior class that just cleared out went 33-11 in their four years under Locker, with three straight playoff trips and a pair of section titles: A tri-crown in Section 1 in 2018 and last year’s solo banner in Section 2. It’s a really good time to be in Warwick’s program.
Coach: Chad Risberg.
Inside the numbers: It’s the fourth season in the captain’s chair for Risberg, who has guided his alma mater to a 15-12 mark, including 3-4 last fall.
Nugget: After just missing out on making the D3 playoffs in his first two years on the job — and we’re talking about minuscule percentage points in the power-rating race — Risberg is hoping this will be the season his Indians finally clear that sticky hurdle.
Coach: Kris Miller.
Inside the numbers: Miller is set for his sixth season at helm in Ephrata, and after a 4-3 finish last fall, the Mounts are 15-32 under his watch.
Nugget: How far as Ephrata come under Miller since snapping that 52-game losing skid back in 2018? The Mounts are an extremely respectable 15-12 in the last three seasons, including back-to-back winning campaigns for the first time in nearly 25 years.
GARDEN SPOT SPARTANS
Coach: Matt Zamperini.
Inside the numbers: This is Zamperini’s third year back on the job, and 12th overall in two stints in New Holland. The Spartans are 58-66 over that clip, including 2-4 last fall, when Sparty snapped a long losing skid, but lost some games to the virus.
Nugget: Garden Spot snapped a 26-game slide with a Week 3 win over Donegal last fall. Coach Z and his troops picked up some mo with a win over Lancaster Catholic in their season finale, but the Spartans were limited to a league-low six games.
LANCASTER CATHOLIC CRUSADERS
Coach: Chris Maiorino.
Inside the numbers: One season in the books for Maiorino, who is set for his sophomore campaign for the Crusaders, who went 2-6 last fall in his debut.
Nugget: It took a little while for Catholic to find its footing under Maiorino; the Crusaders were 0-6 out of the chute before hitting their groove. Catholic ended up beating Lebanon and Annville-Cleona in back-to-back weeks to close it out for some good vibes heading into the offseason.
Coach: Frank Isenberg.
Inside the numbers: COVID-19 wrecked the Cedars’ schedule in Isenberg’s rookie campaign last fall. Still, Lebanon went 3-3 and continued its recent upward trend.
Nugget: After a pretty tough clip that saw Lebanon go just 9-48 in section play from 2010 to 2017, the Cedars are 16-11 overall in the last three years, including a postseason trip in 2019. Isenberg hopes to keep the good times rolling in Lebanon.
Coach: Victor Ridenour.
Inside the numbers: There are two rookie skippers in the league this year, and Ridenour is one of them. He inherits a team coming off back-to-back D3-4A championships, last year’s Section 3 title, and a squad that has gone to the PIAA semifinals the last two years — and missed out on a state-championship appearance by a whisker last fall, when L-S went 9-1 before falling to Jersey Shore in the 4A Final Four.
Nugget: Some mighty big shoes to fill for Ridenour, who takes over for longtime skipper John Manion. All he did in 23 seasons on the Pioneers’ sideline was lead L-S to 177 wins, while capturing eight L-L League section crowns and three D3 championships. Ridenour was Manion’s defensive coordinator the last four years — and he’s been coaching in the Pioneers’ varsity program since 2009 — so he certainly knows his way around L-S’s locker room.
Coach: Matt Gingrich.
Inside the numbers: Gingrich is set for his seventh season, and after last year’s 3-5 finish, the Dutchmen are 36-26 under his watch.
Nugget: One year after winning a D3 playoff game for the first time in program history, Gingrich and his club missed out on a postseason sojourn last fall.
COLUMBIA CRIMSON TIDE
Coach: Bud Kyle.
Inside the numbers: This is Kyle’s fourth season at the helm up on the hill, and he definitely has the Tide pointed in the right direction. After a 4-4 finish last fall, Columbia is 11-27 under Kyle — and the Tide’s stock is rising.
Nugget: Columbia has 11 wins in the last two years under Kyle, who is getting things turned around in Tide camp. Columbia just missed out on a D3-2A playoff bid last fall, and Kyle has had the Tide banging on the door for a postseason spot the last three years.
Coach: Bob Miller.
Inside the numbers: This is Miller’s 10th season calling the shots in Myerstown, and his program is certainly riding high after winning Section 4 and reaching the D3-4A finale last fall, with a fine 7-1 finish. Elco is 48-41 under Miller.
Nugget: What a run for Miller and his troops, as Elco is a shiny 22-8 in the last three years, with three straight playoff trips, including last year’s journey to the D3-4A finale, where the Raiders led L-S at the half before falling to the Pioneers.
NORTHERN LEBANON VIKINGS
Coach: Jason Rice.
Inside the numbers: Rice joins Ridenour at L-S as the league’s two new head coaches this fall. Rice inherits a Vikings’ team that is just 2-26 over the last three seasons — after winning a trio of section championships and going to the D3 playoffs three times in a four-year clip. Rice succeeds Roy Wall, who guided Northern Lebanon to a 46-65 mark in 11 seasons on the Vikings’ sideline.
Nugget: Rice, a Palmyra grad and the youngest coach in the L-L League, previously served as an assistant at Milton Hershey, Lebanon Valley College and Methodist University before touching down in Fredericksburg.
Coach: Jed King.
Inside the numbers: The only coach Octorara’s varsity football program has ever had, King is set for his 14th season in Atglen. After a spirited 6-2 season last fall, the Braves are 32-89 overall under the Solanco grad.
Nugget: Under King, Octorara had a program-record six victories last fall, when the Braves challenged Elco for the Section 4 flag.
PEQUEA VALLEY BRAVES
Coach: Jeff Werner.
Inside the numbers: It’s Year 3 in Kinzers for Werner, and PV is 1-16 under his watch. That includes a 1-6 mark last fall.
Nugget: That one victory last season was a big one; Werner and his Braves blanked Northern Lebanon 14-0 to snap a 24-game losing slide.