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Hempfield’s Tanner Hess runs the ball against McCaskey in a L-L League Section One contest at Hempfield High School on Friday, Oct. 11, 2019.

Rip! Rip! Rip!

Spend any amount of time in proximity to Franklin & Marshall's football coaching staff and one will recognize this as a formation/play call. And so it was familiar to hear it called during a summer gathering of Hempfield’s football team.

Under the guidance of new head coach — and F&M alum — George Eager, the Black Knights will undoubtedly show the occasional Diplomats' element.

“You should see some new stuff coming from us,” said Knights' senior running back Tanner Hess, who rushed for just under 1,000 yards last fall, with 16 touchdowns. “It’s going to shock a lot of teams.”

Eager and defensive coordinator Jay Ridinger have been best friends since their days as Manheim Township teammates. They then became key members of F&M’s prolific pass game circa 2007-10. In the Diplomats' record books, Eager sits third in career receiving yardage, fourth in receptions and third in touchdowns. Ridinger is fifth in yards, catches and TDs.

If nothing else, it shows that they know how to work together to achieve success.

A journey of assistant coaching assignments at Township, Wilson, F&M and Hempfield has prepared Eager for the opportunity to lead his own program. At age 33, he is the youngest head coach in the L-L League.

He has surrounded himself with a veteran staff, including former Warwick offensive coordinator John Ridinger, Jay’s father; former Ephrata head coach Jim Vieland, who was on staff at F&M when Eager matriculated there; former Garden Spot and McCaskey head coach and one-time F&M assistant Eric Spencer; and longtime Knights' assistant Win Heisey.

“I told the guys I was applying, and if I got the job, I wanted them to come,” Eager said. “It was awesome that the staff came together.”

Awesome as well has been the acceptance, the buy-in, of the returning players.

“It’s a whole different attitude, completely different,” said senior Aidan Power, a two-way all-star interior lineman returning for his fourth varsity season, his third as a starter.

Installing a new system can be challenging in even the best of times. But to attempt to do so in a time of pandemic-dictated social distancing?

“It’s an adjustment learning everything,” Hess said. “It’s like we’re freshmen.”

“It’s been interesting, to say the least,” Eager added. “One thing that has really helped is great senior leadership. I had an established relationship with them and they were great. I can’t say that enough.

“If we had to play tomorrow, we could put a product out there.”

Fortunately, with practices — and competitions — pushed back while the decision whether to have a season was hammered out, that product has been polished.

“I’m not mad the season got pushed back,” senior wideout/return-man Jadin Jimenez said. “It gave us more time to get better.”

About the offense

The Knights will go pro-style, using multiple formations with an inside/outside zone-run attack. As noted, the pass attack will be very familiar.

“If you watch our film, pass-game-wise, hopefully, it should look a lot like what F&M is doing,” Eager said. “It should be almost nearly identical.”

Junior quarterback Cam Harbaugh will trigger the attack, getting the ball in the hands of the playmakers, including Hess and Jimenez, with whom Eager worked as an assistant last season.

“He taught me a lot about my releases," Jimenez said, "and how to catch using my hands."

“Jadin reminds me of myself, to be honest,” Eager said. “He’s slippery, and we want to put the ball in his hands.”

Power, at center, and senior tackle Will Alexander will mentor an offensive line that is green and untested.

“There’s a lot of young guys with talent,” Power said. “There’s a lot of development that needs to be done.”

About the defense

Hempfield is switching from a 3-5 base to a multiple front here.

“Depending on the other team’s personnel it could be four down guys, could be three,” Eager said. “It’s definitely going to be zone blitz.”

“There’s always someone coming, always coming after the ball,” said Power, who anchors the defensive line as well, at nose guard, flanked by Gordy Hoover and Max Grube at the ends.

Eager notes outside linebackers Tommy Minnich and Nate Roeder are “very physical.” The secondary features Shaun Hammer and David Almodovar at the corners and Hess and Luke Kreider at safety.

“We have great athletes in the defensive backfield, linebackers,” Powers said. “As many years as I’ve been here, they’re as good as anyone I’ve played with.”

Intangibles

After backing up Colin Peters behind center, how fast can Harbaugh get his feet under him? And can the offensive line protect him and consistently open holes for Hess and Anthony Droege?

Final word

“There’s excitement right now.” Eager said. “We have a lot of hungry guys and we want to seize that momentum.”