With the lowest enrollment in Section One of the Lancaster-Lebanon League, Cedar Crest is, in the words of coach Rob Wildasin, “a small fish in a big pond.’’
Last season, the Falcons started 5-0 and 6-1, putting themselves in position for big things. Then came the meat of the schedule. Crest ultimately reached seven wins, thus locking up a berth in the District Three Class 6A playoffs, but lost to Warwick, Manheim Township and Wilson down the stretch by a combined 131-21.
In districts, the Falcons lost 36-6 to Central Dauphin, which reached the 6A state final.
In contrast, this year’s schedule is front-loaded, with Manheim Central, Township and Wilson slated in the first four weeks.
Also, of course, the season is truncated and so are the playoffs, with only four 6A teams qualifying for districts.
The macro-level goal of joining the L-L League's big-school powers is still there. There is reportedly special talent coming within the program, and there are certainly numbers: Crest has 83 players including freshmen, some of whom might be ready to help now.
But in this unique season, perhaps the goals are less tangible.
“It’s going to be fun, but this may be the time to not get too caught up in (records, playoffs, etc.) and enjoy the moment,’’ Wildasin said. “The kids are excited just to have something. That’s kind of neat.’’
About the offense
The linchpins are quarterback Chris Danz and running back Aadyn Richards. Danz, a senior, was solid as a rookie starter a year ago and should be better. He’s the son of former Crest QB Chris Danz, cousin of Crest basketball coach Tommy Smith and grandson of Falcons' coaching legend Norbie Danz.
Richards, a junior, should be one of the league's best two-way players. He ran for 172 yards in just 30 carries (5.73 yards a carry) last year backing up bell-cow Tyler Cruz, a 1,300-yard rusher now at Franklin & Marshall.
Richards’ workload, at 5-foot-10, 200 pounds and with huge defensive responsibilities, could be an issue.
“Coming from Section Three, if we were there, he’d be on the field every play,’’ said Wildasin, an Annville-Cleona grad. “Section One is different. That probably isn’t realistic.’’
Danz’s backup, senior Dalton Reinhart, and speedy senior Nate Brightbill, should be playmakers at wide receiver. The challenge for Wildasin and Co. will be constructing an offensive line around one returning starter, 6-1, 270-pound senior Cole Pennington, and another returner who contributed, senior Zak Claman (5-11, 280).
About the defense
The D was pretty good last year, especially early. It was key to a 17-14, Week Three win over highly regarded York that was critical to making the postseason.
Then Richards, who led the team in tackles in 2018 as a freshman, went down with a broken collarbone just as the schedule got tough. He had 65 tackles last year in half a season, and will have to be the Falcons’ fulcrum.
There’s another fine LB back in senior Dylan Stiver. Claman, at DT, looked like one of the few two-way linemen as of the opening days of practice. The secondary looks pretty set with seniors Tyrese Stewart and Chris Morales and junior Brayden Koehler.
The Falcons have some jobs open. They also have lots of available bodies to choose from.
“We have some guys who can play,’’ Wildasin said. “We need some other guys to step up, though. If we can block people up front, we should be similar to last year.’’