They are the men who have the keys to the 24 Lancaster-Lebanon League football programs.
Some are wily veterans. Some are still getting their feet wet in L-L League circles. Some are rookies. Heck, one of them is set to return this fall for his second go-round in his old stomping grounds.
Here’s a look at the league’s head coaches, who will be leading their teams into battle early next month, when heat acclimatization practices get started on Aug. 5.
CEDAR CREST FALCONS
Coach: Rob Wildasin.
Inside the numbers: This will be Wildasin’s 6th season as the Falcons’ head coach, and Cedar Crest is 27-25 under his watch.
Playoff resume: Wildasin has taken the Falcons to the D3 playoffs two times. In 2015, Cedar Crest lost to Exeter in a 4A first-round clash, and in 2017, the Falcons fell to L-L neighbor Cocalico in a 5A quarterfinal. The 2015 trip was the Falcons’ first D3 foray since 1999, so Wildasin has Cedar Crest very much back on track.
Nugget: Wildasin is a former assistant coach at Annville-Cleona, and two years ago he skippered the victorious North Team in the annual L-L League Tri-County All-Star Game.
HEMPFIELD BLACK KNIGHTS
Coach: Ron Zeiber.
Inside the numbers: This will be Zeiber’s 9th season as the Black Knights’ head coach, and Hempfield is 48-41 under his watch.
Playoff resume: Hempfield has gone to the D3 playoffs six times under Zeiber, including his debut season in Landisville in 2011. The Knights are 5-6 in those playoff appearances, including a 6A first-round exit against eventual champ Harrisburg last season. Hempfield’s deepest D3 trip under Zeiber came in 2015, when the Knights reached the 4A semifinals before dropping a 27-24 OT heartbreaker against Central Dauphin.
Nugget: A Berks County native, Zeiber has compiled quite the coaching resume. Before landing in Landisville, he had stops at Central Dauphin, Exeter, Reading and Albright College as an assistant coach, and he was the head coach at Exeter and Boyertown before coming to Hempfield.
MANHEIM TOWNSHIP BLUE STREAKS
Coach: Mark Evans.
Inside the numbers: This will be Evans’ 7th season as the Blue Streaks’ head coach, and Manheim Township is 48-24 under his watch.
Playoff resume: Evans has guided the Streaks to the D3 playoffs in each of his first six seasons on the job in Neffsville, and Township is 6-5 in those appearance. Their deepest trip? Easy: The Streaks won their first D3 title in 2017, with a 24-21 victory over Cumberland Valley in the 6A finale. Township failed to repeat last fall, but did get back to the quarterfinals before falling to Central Dauphin.
Nugget: Before coming to Township, Evans was Elco’s head coach for 14 seasons, where the Raiders went 74-71 under his watchful eye. That included four playoff trips, plus a spot in the 2001 D3-2A title game. In 20 years as an L-L League head coach, Evans’ record is 122-95. He served as Pennsylvania’s Big 33 head coach in 2018.
McCASKEY RED TORNADO
Coach: Sam London.
Inside the numbers: This will be London’s 1st season as the Red Tornado’s head coach. He replaced Eric Spencer, who resigned his post following last season.
Nugget: London is a Coatesville grad, and he previously served as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Cheyney University and Lincoln University before taking the McCaskey gig. He’s also a decorated Air Force veteran who served in Iraq.
PENN MANOR COMETS
Coach: John Brubaker.
Inside the numbers: This will be Brubaker’s 5th season as the Comets’ head coach, and Penn Manor is 6-34 under his watch.
Playoff resume: No postseason trips for the Comets under Brubaker.
Nugget: Brubaker was Mike Williams’ longtime defensive coordinator and confidant at Manheim Central, his alma mater. Brubaker was an all-star running back during his prep days for the Barons, and he played in the Big 33 game.
Coach: Bob Locker.
Inside the numbers: This will Locker’s 19th season as the Warriors’ head coach, and Warwick is 88-98 under his watch.
Playoff resume: It wasn’t looking all that great … until last year. Locker has taken the Warriors to the D3 playoffs six times. But those first five appearances ended in one-and-done, season-ending losses: In 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2016, the first four in Class 4A, the latter in 6A. But that all changed last fall when Warwick toppled Palmyra in a 5A first-round game for the program’s first D3 victory. The Warriors fell at Cedar Cliff the next week in the quarterfinals. But Locker and his troops finally got the D3 monkey off their backs — and they’re looking for even more this time around.
Nugget: With 18 seasons in the books in Lititz, Locker is the third-longest tenured coach in the L-L League, with only John Manion (Lampeter-Strasburg) and Mark Evans (Elco, Manheim Township) ahead of him on the chart.
Coach: Doug Dahms.
Inside the numbers: This will be Dahms’ 14th season as the Bulldogs’ head coach, and Wilson is 145-28 under his watch. The program record for career coaching victories is 151, held by John Gurski — the guy who Wilson’s stadium is named for. So Dahms could snap that mark this fall — in his 44th season coaching in the Bulldogs’ program.
Playoff resume: Under Dahms, Wilson has played in — get this — 39 D3 playoff games. In those games, the Bulldogs are 30-9, with championships in 2008 (over Cumberland Valley in 4A), 2012 (over Harrisburg in 4A), 2014 (over Central Dauphin in 4A), and in 2016 (over Cumberland Valley in 6A). Wilson fell to Harrisburg in the 6A quarterfinals last November. As for the PIAA playoffs, Wilson is 0-4 under Dahms, but the Bulldogs fell to some pretty stacked WPIAL-champ teams in those appearances: 2008 against Bethel Park; 2012 against North Allegheny; 2014 against Pine-Richland; and 2016 against Pittsburgh Central Catholic. Still, add it all up and that’s a nifty 30-13 playoff record with Dahms at the helm.
Nugget: Simply a glittering resume for Dahms, who, among many other things, guided Wilson to that unforgettable 68-game L-L League Section 1 winning streak, between 2007 and 2017.
Coach: Dave Gingrich.
Inside the numbers: This will be Gingrich’s 16th season as the Eagles’ head coach, and Cocalico is 119-57 under his watch.
Playoff resume: Gingrich has taken Cocalico to the D3 playoffs 11 times during his days in Denver. That includes 2018, when the Eagles played archival Manheim Central in the 5A finale. That was the sixth time Cocalico and Manheim Central faced off in a D3 playoff game. The Eagles are 16-11 in D3 playoff contests under Gingrich, with championship-game trips in 2010 (lost to Bishop McDevitt in 3A), 2014 (lost to Bishop McDevitt in 3A) and last fall (lost to Manheim Central in 5A). Cocalico has faced Manheim Central in the D3 playoffs the last three years in a row, falling to the Barons in the semifinals in 2016 and 2017, before last year’s finale. With players aplenty due back in both camps, folks in the know will tell you that Cocalico and Manheim Central are already on a collision course to meet up in D3-5A bracket again later this fall.
Nugget: Gingrich was also a longtime assistant coach under former Cocalico skipper Phil Kauffman, and his son, all-state lineman Brock Gingrich, will be a player to watch for his senior season this fall in Denver.
CONESTOGA VALLEY BUCKSKINS
Coach: Gerad Novak.
Inside the numbers: This will be Novak’s 4th season — in his second stint — as the Buckskins’ head coach, and CV is 13-17 under his watch. Novak’s first go-round in Witmer was from 1994-2008, good for a 14-year run with the Bucks. This will be his 18th season overall at the helm in Buckskin Country. Novak is now fourth on the list of longest-tenured coaches the L-L League, behind Locker, Evans and Manion.
Playoff resume: CV has not been to the D3 playoffs since Novak returned to the sideline.
Nugget: In his first stint as Bucks’ skipper, CV went to the D3 playoffs four times under Novak. The Bucks went 3-4 in those games, reaching the 3A championship game in 1994 (lost to Manheim Central) and again in 2000 (lost to Manheim Central). CV’s last postseason trip was in 2010, so the Bucks are due.
Coach: Andy Breault.
Inside the numbers: This will be Breault’s 2nd season as the Bears’ head coach, and E-town is 6-5 under his watch.
Playoff resume: The Bears went to the D3-5A playoffs in Breault’s rookie campaign last fall. But it was a short stay for E-town, which dropped a 30-0 decision against Governor Mifflin in the first round.
Nugget: Breault is practically royalty in E-town, where he was an all-star QB for the Bears under legendary coach Jack Cassebaum during his prep days. Breault went on to have a standout career at Kutztown University, and his name is still all over the record-books at E-town and KU.
GARDEN SPOT SPARTANS
Coach: Matt Zamperini.
Inside the numbers: This will be Zamperini’s 1st season back as the Spartans’ head coach. He replaces Zach Fulmer, who resigned his post following last season. Zamperini previously coached Garden Spot for 10 seasons, and the Spartans went 56-52 over that clip.
Playoff resume: During Zamperini’s first stint at Garden Spot, from 2006-2015, he took the Spartans to the D3 playoffs four times, and Garden Spot went 2-6 in those games. The wins came in 2008, when the Spartans beat Lebanon and Greencastle-Antrim on the way to reaching the 3A semifinals, where Garden Spot was tripped up by West York. Three of the Spartans’ last four losses in D3 playoff games have come at the hands of L-L League Section 2 rival Manheim Central.
Nugget: Before reclaiming the Spartans’ job, Zamperini recently served as a defensive line coach for Albright College.
Coach: John Manion.
Inside the numbers: This will be Manion’s 22nd season as the Pioneers’ head coach, and L-S is 157-78 under his watch. His first year on the job in Lampeter was 1997, when Bill Clinton was president, Titanic was the No. 1 box-office draw, and gas cost $1.22 per gallon.
Playoff resume: Manion has guided L-S to the D3 playoffs 12 times, including a 4A quarterfinal-round trip last fall. The Pioneers are 13-10 in those playoff games, with championship-game appearances in 2007 (beat Gettysburg for the 3A title) and 2011 (lost to Bishop McDevitt in the 3A title clash). In 2007, L-S fell to Garnet Valley in the PIAA semifinals, in the program’s lone state-playoff appearance.
Nugget: Manion is the longest-tenured head coach in the L-L League, ahead of Evans, Locker and Novak.
MANHEIM CENTRAL BARONS
Coach: Dave Hahn.
Inside the numbers: This will be Hahn’s 5th season as the Barons’ head coach, and Manheim Central is 48-7 under his watch.
Playoff resume: Hahn has taken the Barons to the D3 playoffs in each of his first four seasons in Manheim, after he replaced living legend — and current team assistant coach — Mike Williams at the helm of the Barons’ program. Manheim Central is 11-3 in those D3 games. The losses are to Bishop McDevitt (2014 3A quarterfinals); Susquehanna Township (2015 3A semifinals); and Harrisburg (2016 5A championship game). Since that setback to Harrisburg, Central is 6-0, with back-to-back D3-5A crowns, including last year’s victory over L-L League Section 2 rival Cocalico. In the PIAA playoffs, the Barons are 1-2 over the last two seasons under Hahn: They fell to Gateway in a 5A state semifinal in 2017, before topping Upper Dublin in a 5A state semifinal last fall. Manheim Central fell to Penn Hills in the PIAA title game last December, in the program’s fourth trip to a state-championship game.
Nugget: Under Hahn, the Barons are 26-2 in their last 28 games and 34-3 in their last 37 games. They’ll hit the 2019 season riding a 25-game winning streak in nonleague, non-playoff games.
SOLANCO GOLDEN MULES
Coach: Tony Cox.
Inside the numbers: This will be Cox’s 6th season as the Golden Mules’ head coach, and Solanco is 32-22 under his watch.
Playoff resume: Solanco has gone to the D3 playoffs three times under Cox, and the Mules are 3-3 in those games, including last year’s 49-0 first-round 5A romp over Waynesboro. Solanco also won a pair of D3-3A games in 2015 (over Shippensburg and L-L League rival Lampeter-Strasburg) before falling to Bishop McDevitt in the semifinals for the program’s deepest postseason trip.
Nugget: Cox made an immediate impact at Solanco, taking the Mules to the D3 playoffs in his first season on the job in 2014 — that after the Mules had a nondescript 15-35 record over the previous five seasons in Quarryville.
ANNVILLE-CLEONA LITTLE DUTCHMEN
Coach: Matt Gingrich.
Inside the numbers: This will be Gingrich’s 5th season as the Little Dutchmen’s head coach, and A-C is 26-16 under his watch.
Playoff resume: Gingrich has guided the Dutchmen to the D3 playoffs three times during his days in Annville. But A-C is 0-3 in those games, with setbacks in 2014 (2A quarterfinals vs. Newport), 2015 (2A quarterfinals vs. Berks Catholic) and last year (3A quarterfinals vs. Bermudian Springs).
Nugget: Gingrich, whose big brother Dave Gingrich is Cocalico’s skipper, is the president of the L-L League Quarterback Club, and he played football for the late, great Gene Carpenter at Millersville.
COLUMBIA CRIMSON TIDE
Coach: Bud Kyle.
Inside the numbers: This will be Kyle’s 3rd season as the Crimson Tide’s head coach, and Columbia is 3-17 under his watch.
Playoff resume: No playoff trips for the Tide under Kyle.
Nugget: After a head-scratcher 0-10 rookie campaign in 2017, Kyle got Columbia back on track with a 3-win season last fall. The Tide even flirted with earning a D3-2A playoff spot, but a late-season setback cost them a playoff bid.
Coach: Chad Risberg.
Inside the numbers: This will be Risberg’s 2nd season as the Indians’ head coach, and Donegal is 6-4 under his watch.
Playoff resume: A winning season in Risberg’s debut last fall, yes, but the Indians just missed out on a D3-4A playoff berth.
Nugget: Risberg is a Donegal grad and a former Indians’ player back in his prep days. Hence his reasoning not to junk anything — and stick with the status quo — when he took over the program.
Coach: Bob Miller.
Inside the numbers: This will be Miller’s 8th season as the Raiders’ head coach, and Elco is 34-36 under his watch.
Playoff resume: Miller took the Raiders to the D3 playoffs last fall, for Elco’s first postseason excursion since 2009. The Raiders dropped a 37-0 decision against L-L League combatant Lampeter-Strasburg in a 4A quarterfinal-round game — in a driving rainstorm in Myerstown.
Nugget: With Miller calling the shots, Elco generated an 8-win season, and finished tied for second place in the L-L League Section 3 race with a fine 7-2 league mark last fall. The Raiders went playoff dancing for just the fifth time in school history, and for the first time in nine long years.
Coach: Kris Miller.
Inside the numbers: This will be Miller’s 4th season as the Mounts’ head coach, and Ephrata is 5-25 under his watch.
Playoff resume: No D3 playoff trips for the Mounts under Miller’s tutelage. But after last year’s turnaround season, Ephrata is probably thinking postseason this time around. The Mounts have had exactly one playoff trip, and that was way back in 1987, when Ephrata fell to Bishop McDevitt in a 3A clash.
Nugget: L-L League ties aplenty for Miller, who played for Conestoga Valley during his prep days. And he was an assistant coach at Northern Lebanon before landing in Ephrata — where he’s getting things turned around and pointed in the right direction in the Mounts’ program.
LANCASTER CATHOLIC CRUSADERS
Coach: Todd Mealy.
Inside the numbers: This will be Mealy’s 2nd season as the Crusaders’ head coach, and Lancaster Catholic is 10-1 under his watch.
Playoff resume: The Crusaders won the L-L League Section 3 title with a perfect regular-season run last fall, and earned the No. 1 seed in the D3-3A playoff bracket in the process. After a quarterfinal-round bye, the Crusaders were unceremoniously bounced by 5-seed Bermudian Springs in the semifinals.
Nugget: A standout player at Bishop McDevitt during his playing days, Mealy previously coached at Penn Manor. During his 8-year stint with the Comets, Penn Manor went 56-35 and went to the D3 playoffs seven years in a row. Mealy stepped down in Millersville to earn his doctorate before coming back as an assistant coach at Lancaster Catholic in Bruce Harbach’s swan-song season. In nine total years as an L-L League head coach, Mealy’s teams are 66-36.
Coach: Gerry Yonchiuk.
Inside the numbers: This will be Yonchiuk’s 14th season as the Cedars’ head coach, and Lebanon is 41-91 under his watch.
Playoff resume: No playoff trips for the Cedars under Yonchiuk since 2013. But after last year’s snap-back season, Lebanon is very likely thinking postseason bid this time around. The Cedars are 0-2 in a pair of postseason games under Yonchiuk, going to the playoffs in 2008 (lost to L-L League rival Garden Spot in a 3A first-rounder) and again in 2013 (lost to Dallastown in a 4A first-rounder).
Nugget: Yonchiuk has guided Lebanon pretty much all over the charts here lately. There was a ton of time in Section 2. Then a stint up in Section 1. Now the Cedars are in the second year of a 2-year cycle stay in Section 3. They’ll remain in Section 3 — in a 4-section format — for the 2020-21 cycle, as well. That’s a lot of different schedules, scouting reports and bus rides. Hence Lebanon’s peaks-and-valleys go of it here lately.
NORTHERN LEBANON VIKINGS
Coach: Roy Wall.
Inside the numbers: This will be Wall’s 10th season as the Vikings’ head coach, and Northern Lebanon is 45-48 under his watch.
Playoff resume: Wall and the Vikes have gone to the D3 playoffs three times, but came up short in the first round in all three attempts; 2014 (fell to Conrad Weiser in 3A), 2015 (fell to Northeastern York in 3A) and 2017 (fell to L-L League neighbor Lampeter-Strasburg in 4A).
Nugget: Wall cut his teeth in the Tri-Valley League as the head coach at Millersburg, and he hit the ground running in Fredericksburg, leading Northern Lebanon to L-L League Section 3 championships in 2014, 2015 and 2017. The Vikes dipped to 1-9 last season, but Wall has turned things around before at Northern Lebanon.
Coach: Jed King.
Inside the numbers: This will be King’s 12th season as the Braves’ head coach, and Octorara is 24-79 under his watch.
Playoff resume: Octorara made one District 1 playoff trip a few years back.
Nugget: King is the only head coach the Braves have ever known. He’s been the skipper since Octorara’s then-fledgling program joined the Ches-Mont League. He’s guided the Braves over to the L-L League, where they made their debut here — and as a full-time District 3 member — last fall. King is a Solanco grad; he played QB for the Mules before playing in college at Kutztown.
PEQUEA VALLEY BRAVES
Coach: Jeff Werner.
Inside the numbers: This will be Werner’s 1st season as the Braves’ head coach. He took over for Mike Choi, who resigned his post after last season.
Nugget: Werner has spent the last 33 years serving as coach at several levels, including varsity, junior varsity and junior high. His most recent stint was at Ephrata, where he served as the Mounts’ junior high head coach. Werner was also an assistant under Kauffman and Gingrich at Cocalico, and he’s a 1977 Cocalico grad who played for the Eagles during his prep days.