When you think about Manheim Central’s storied football program — the 26 L-L League section championships, the 18 District Three titles and the unforgettable 2003 PIAA crown — there is never any rebuilding, only reloading.
That’s the catchword this fall for the Barons, who must replace 20 total full-time starters from last year’s squad, which won Section Two gold for the fifth year in a row and went to the Class 5A district quarterfinals.
Central’s lengthy key players lost list includes all-state QB Evan Simon, who amassed 8,000 career air yards on his way to Rutgers, with a plethora of Barons’ passing records to boot. Plus all-state wideout Colby Wagner — not to mention a battalion of wily, beef-eater offensive linemen.
Still, the bar remains higher than ever in Baron Nation.
“It’s not a rebuild, it’s a reload,” Central coach Dave Hahn said. “We’re going to have some bumps in the road because we have some new guys and there’s a learning curve that we’re working through. But we’ll get there. The expectations are the same here, so we can’t rebuild.”
Not with powerhouse Warwick — which topped Central twice last fall, including the district quarterfinals — sliding down to Section Two, which also features reigning Class 5A district champ Cocalico, the Barons’ longtime rival. And hey, this is Central; nobody is going to feel sorry about the Barons’ graduation hits or wet-behind-the-ear starters.
“We have a close bond already,” said Central senior WR-DB Owen Pappas, one of the few returning starters. “It’s not about yourself here, anyway. We play for the name on the front of the jersey. We play for the Barons.”
About the offense
There are just two full-time starters returning in Central’s spread attack: Pappas at wideout and offensive guard Jeremy Knight. That’s it. That’s the list.
Pappas is a sure-handed receiver, but who is going to get him the ball? It looks like Judd Novak will earn the QB job, after he took some snaps and completed a couple of passes behind Simon last fall. Talk about some gigantic spikes to fill.
As for the playmaker department, Hahn is high on running backs Larry Marley and Justin Heffernan, wideouts Owen Sensenig and Wes Borden, and tight ends Devynne Neville, Kade Kegarise and Darren Shenenberger.
“It’s their turn now,” Hahn said of his new skill-kid group.
The O-line — Hahn’s forte — has been Central’s bread and butter forever and ever, and that will be a revamped group with just Knight returning to man the left guard spot. Hahn must find another guard, a center and a pair of tackles.
Candidates for trench warfare time include guards Cole Groff, Gage Watt, Wyatt Kupres and Jeff Hauser, tackles Owen Kupres, Jake Kerdeman, Matt Lopez and Tyler Fahnestock, and Ryland Fittery at center.
“The offensive line is so important in everything you do — the running game, the passing game, everything,” Hahn said. “That’s a big area for us, especially. I think we have the right guys. Now we have to put them in the right spots, get them reps, and get them going.”
About the defense
Only Pappas, at free safety, is a returning starter in Central’s 4-2-5 scheme. He’ll be flanked in the secondary by Sensenig and Corbin Moore at cover corner and Mason Weaver at the other safety spot. There is some depth in the secondary — and across the board defensively — as well.
Hahn really likes his linebacker corps, which features Heffernan, Neville, Borden and newcomer Josh Moore. Up front, Fahnestock, the Kupres boys and Logan Saunders are battling it out for D-end reps, and Knight, Fittery and Kerdeman are in line for D-tackle snaps for the Barons, who are almost always among the league leaders in team defense.
“I think our defense can be solid,” Hahn said. “We might not be the biggest, but we’ll be quick and aggressive.”
Here’s a huge advantage for the Barons: Logan Shull and Nate Reed are both due back to handle the kicking duties.
Shull, a section all-star last fall, will handle PAT attempts and short field goals, while Reed, who participated in the prestigious invite-only Kohl’s Scholarship Camp earlier this summer in Tennessee, will handle longer field goals and kickoffs, plus the punting chores.
Shull and Reed combined to go 49 for 54 on PAT attempts and a perfect 9 for 9 on field goals last season.
“We’re good there,” Hahn said. “I’m excited about our kicking game.”
“Do I know how the season is going to look like as far as wins and losses?” Hahn said. “No, but I know we’ll compete and I know we’ll be better by the end of the season. We’re not going to talk about rebuilding. We’re taking about reloading, and these are our expectations and here’s where we want to get to. No excuses.”