Manheim Central vs Wilson-HS Football

Manheim Central's Tyler Flick (24) is dropped for a loss by Wilson's Jeff Colacin (56) during first half action of an LL League football game at Elden Rettew Stadium in Manheim Friday Sept. 14, 2018.

It’s been a nerve-wracking, nail-biting time for Wilson’s football team.

Not because the Bulldogs have to replace a bunch of starters or because they’re facing a daunting schedule with all the usual bull’s-eyes that waft around West Lawn. That's nothing new for this crew.

This summer, the Bulldogs had to wait out the PIAA’s much-anticipated decision to let individual school districts allow their athletic programs to participate this fall. That was a big exhale moment.

But then coach Doug Dahms and his bunch survived a school board vote on Aug. 27, when they were given the final thumbs-up to have a season. That was an enormous exhale moment.

The Bulldogs, owners of a league-record 27 section championships and thinking big once again, can now focus squarely on the task at hand: Maneuvering through a landmine-strewn schedule — with plenty of targets on their backs, as usual.

“I like their attitude and I like the way they’ve been working,” Dahms said. “It’s going to come down to minimizing the mental mistakes, and how soon our offensive line can come together. If the offensive line jells, we could be pretty good there. But we don’t have a lot of time for that to happen.”

That’s because the truncated 2020 season has turned into a sprint, not the usual marathon. If you have postseason aspirations, you have six games to qualify for a District Three bracket. That’s it. And the Bulldogs, like clockwork, expect to be at the front of line to go playoff dancing.

About the offense

Some good news and some bad news in Bulldog Country.

The good news is that a stable of talented skill kids are due back, including dual-threat QB Kaleb Brown, speed-demon running backs Mason Lenart and Jadyn Jones, and vet flank threat Troy Corson. Brown passed for 1,400 yards and rushed for 700 stripes last fall, and Corson is back for his fourth season in a Bulldogs' varsity uniform. Lenart and Jones can both flat-out beat you with their wheels.

“That’s going to be huge for us,” Brown said. “Both of those guys are speed threats, and they’re strong.”

The question mark on this side of the ball is the offensive line; Wilson watched all five trench starters from last year’s district semifinalist squad graduate, so there are some big holes to fill up front.

No jobs are engraved in stone just yet, but here are some names you’ll need to familiarize yourself with when it comes to Wilson’s new-look O-line: OT Chase Walters (6-4, 255), OG Ethan Ashcroft (6-1, 245), C Trent Maus (5-10, 235), OG Kyle Hassler (6-1, 255) and OT Matt Schrufer (6-0, 200) are all candidates to play major minutes in the trenches, keeping Brown upright and blowing open holes for Lenart and Jones.

“From July until now, the line has made huge strides, and that’s been really good to see,” Brown said. “They’re much more confident, and that’s a really good sign.”

About the defense

Death, taxes and Wilson’s defense. Yes, year in and year out, the Bulldogs are almost always airtight on that side of the ball, and they’ll return some key pieces this fall.

There are five vets due back to make tackles, including heavy hitter DT Jeff Colacin, QB-chaser Ethan Capitano at D-end, Corson, an all-star DB, LB ball-hawker Adrian Santana, and Brown, who could see time at cover-corner or safety. That’s a good start.

Keep an eye on Jones and Jon Ramsey to pitch in at linebacker, while the Bulldogs must plug in some newbies in the secondary.

“I think we’re starting to fit some pieces into the puzzle,” Dahms said. “Our biggest question mark is still going to be the offensive line, but we’re also adjusting to some new things in secondary, and some other new wrinkles defensively.”

Intangibles

Wilson is way ahead of the curve in the special teams department, with a trio of all-stars due back in Brown at punter, Corson in the return game, and especially kicker Jack Wagner, who is a major weapon.

Wagner participated in the invitation-only Kohl’s Scholarship Camp earlier this summer in Tennessee, after he boomed 34 touchbacks for the Bulldogs last fall. Field position is enormous, and not many kickoff men in the area flip the field like Wagner.

“Jack doesn’t get enough credit,” Brown said. “If he doesn’t get all of those touchbacks last year, who knows what kind of field position the other team would have had? We’re very fortunate to have him.”

Final word

“It’s been unusual around here, that’s for sure,” Dahms said. “No spring ball. No summer camp. So it hasn’t been the same. We couldn’t imagine not playing football here, so our kids are pumped up, and they’re anxious to play.”