Through 2015, Warwick's football program had four winning seasons in coach Bob Locker's first 15 years with the program.
Locker is still at the helm, now entering his 20th year and the second-longest tenured coach in the Lancaster-Lebanon League. He’s also two wins shy of 100 career victories, a milestone made feasible because the Warriors have stacked up a bunch of wins in the last four seasons.
Since the start of 2016, Warwick is 33-13. In 2018, the Warriors nabbed a piece of a section crown for the first time since 1997 and won a district playoff game for the first time in program history.
In 2019, Warwick beat Manheim Central for the first time since 1983 and later reached a district semifinal for the first time in program history, finishing 10-3 overall.
Warwick appeared on the verge of going further when taking a 13-0 first-half lead in the District Three Class 5A semifinals, but ultimately fell 21-13 to Cocalico, the eventual district champion.
It’s likely a point of motivation for a Warwick team that returns plenty of key parts heading into 2020, including Nolan Rucci, the top O-lineman recruit in the country for the Class of 2021, who last week verbally committed to Wisconsin.
“From last season, we have the idea we know we can go far,” Rucci told LNP | LancasterOnline. “Especially with the returning talent this year, and the guys coming up who are developing into some great players.”
Keep in mind Warwick is moving to Section Two, which includes Cocalico and Manheim Central. The Warriors are also in Class 5A, from which only four teams will qualify for the district playoffs because of the truncated season.
“You can’t give away any games in the regular season,” Rucci said.
About the offense
Rucci anchors an O-line that also returns seniors Owen Campbell and Caleb Goss. They’ll open holes for senior workhorse back Colton Miller (257 carries for 1,314 rushing yards, 30 TDs last season).
The biggest question mark for Warwick’s 1-back spread attack is the health of quarterback Joey McCracken (183 for 294 for 2,912 passing yards, 27 TDs, 6 interceptions), who is recovering from a knee injury suffered near the end of last basketball season.
If not for the injury, McCracken would likely have attended top QB camps over the summer, and had a good shot at being recruited by FBS, or perhaps FCS, college programs.
“Joey has been making an awesome recovery since back in winter when he had that injury,” Rucci said. “I know the kind of work he’s been putting in over the offseason, to get to the point where he is today is astronomical. ... I’m excited to see what he does this season.”
If McCracken can’t go, the Warriors’ coaching staff is confident in backup Jack Reed, a sophomore who completed 6 of 11 passes for 51 yards in mop-up duty last year.
No matter who takes the snaps, the Warriors will have a top target in wideout Caleb Schmitz (58 receptions for 951 yards, 13 TDs), a standout two-way player who is already committed to the University of Cincinnati.
About the defense
Of the top four tacklers on last year’s team, senior inside linebacker Nate Maher (76 tackles, 3 sacks) is the only returner of the bunch. Fronting him will be D-linemen Rucci (30 tackles), Campbell (18 tackles) and senior Thatcher Miller (29 tackles, 3 sacks).
Colton Miller (15 tackles) will also take on a larger role as a linebacker.
The strength of Warwick’s 3-4 defense is its secondary, led by all-state strong safety Schmitz (49 tackles, 4 interceptions), alongside D-backs Tanner Haines (47 tackles), Adam Martin (14 tackles, 2 interceptions) and Cooper Eckert (4 tackles, 1 interception).
Haines also handles the kicking duties.
Warwick hosts Manheim Central on Oct. 2 and Cocalico on Oct. 23.