With heat acclimatization practices on tap for this week, training camp set for next week, scrimmages on Aug. 17 and then real, live Week 1 games on Aug. 23 approaching quickly, here’s a late-summer, pre-camp Lancaster-Lebanon League football primer for the upcoming 2019 season.
We continue our previews with a Section 2 breakdown …
COACH: Dave Gingrich (16th season; 119-57 overall).
NUGGET: Cocalico was the last team to hand Manheim Central an L-L League Section 2 defeat. The Eagles beat the Barons 28-24 in Denver on Sept. 30, 2016. Central has won 17 league games in a row since.
KEY KIDS: QB-DB Noah Palm returns for his senior season — might have to check his ID soon — and what a career he’s carving out in Denver. Palm shared the signal-caller duties as a freshman, and he’s been an absolute 3-year terror at QB and safety. Last fall, he passed for 773 yards and 12 TD, and rushed for 1,310 yards with 28 TD keepers. Tack on 100 tackles, and Palm was an all-state pick. He committed to the University of New Hampshire this summer. He’ll have two returning studs up front to protect and blow open holes in fellow all-state pick Brock Gingrich and Austin Sauder, at the guard spots. Can’t discuss Cocalico’s Flexbone scheme without talking fullback, and the Eagles should have a good one in holdover Cody Shay. And Ronald Zahm (618 yards, 8 TD) returns as the speed back. Shay should also be a ringleader at inside ‘backer, Gingrich will be an anchor at D-tackle, and Palm (also an all-star punter) and Zahm (also an all-star kick-returner) should make scads of plays from their safety spots in the Eagles’ 4-3 scheme.
QUESTION MARK: Cocalico returned just one starter on defense last year and everyone panicked. But the Eagles got the last laugh, winning 10 games and going all the way to the D3-5A title game. It looks like just eight total full-time returning starters are due back from last year’s joy ride, so there will be some fresh faces in some important places. But that hasn’t stopped this crew, pretty much ever.
CIRCLE THE DATE: Week 6 at Manheim Central. ‘Nuff said.
CONESTOGA VALLEY BUCKSKINS
COACH: Gerad Novak (4th season; 13-17 overall).
LAST YEAR: 3-3 Section 2 (tied for 3rd place); 5-5 overall.
NUGGET: It’s been a bit of a postseason dry spell for the Bucks, who have not been to the D3 playoffs since 2010. And CV hasn’t won a D3 playoff game since 2009.
KEY KIDS: There are some important pieces due back in Bucks’ camp, including QB Bradley Stoltzfus, who had a breakout debut last fall with 1,601 passing yards and 11 TD throws on 60-percent completions. He can really wing it, and should benefit from the return of WR Derek Ulishney (15-236, 1 TD) on the flanks. RB Booper Johnson (331 yards, 1 TD) is also set to return, along with all-star C Josh Mathiot in CV’s 1-back/Spread attack. Ulishney is rock-solid at safety, where he’ll be joined by Zach Fisher in the back, plus D-end Brandon Camp in the Bucks’ 4-3 D set.
QUESTION MARK: Keep an eye on the O-line, where Mathiot is the lone returning starter. CV will have to keep Stoltzfus upright while he gets on the same page with his receivers after the Bucks lost reliable pass-catchers Joe Cardina (35-485, 4 TD), Parker Graff (27-363, 2 TD) and Gavin Horning (28-361, 3 TD) to graduation. Check out their numbers; that’s a ton of production out the door. Johnson should get plenty more touches after 800-yard RB Keegan Martin graduated. The Bucks’ had a resurgence in the running game last fall, thanks to Martin and a beefy line. A lot of those guys are gone. What happens this season will hinge on how quickly the newbie O-line crew gets on the same page.
CIRCLE THE DATE: Week 4 at Lampeter-Strasburg in the Section 2 opener for both clubs. That’s also the Lampeter Bowl showdown, and it’ll be a 7:30 p.m. kickoff in Lampeter; the only 7:30 p.m. start time on the L-L League docket this fall. The Bucks had a 2-1 nonleague portion last year, and then KO’d the Pioneers 20-7 in the section opener on the way to a sizzling 5-1 start. Then came Cocalico (L), Manheim Central (L), Warwick (L) and Elizabethtown (L), and the Bucks settled for a .500 season and no playoff bid. They’ll need another fast start in league play vs. L-S — with a traveling trophy (to defend) up for grabs the same night.
COACH: Andy Breault (2nd season; 6-5 overall).
LAST YEAR: 3-3 Section 2 (tied for 3rd place); 6-5 overall (lost to Governor Mifflin 30-0 in first round of D3-5A playoffs).
NUGGET: Luke Pierson, who had 40 catches for 635 yards with five TD grabs last fall, and who was set to be the leading returning receiver in Section 2 this season, is not listed on Breault’s preseason depth chart.
KEY KIDS: We’ll begin with two-way terror Adnan Traore, who will anchor the O-line at OG, and he’ll be a whirling dervish at middle ‘backer; he registered 83 tackles and four sacks last fall. Holdovers Joe Sikora, at center, and OT Billy McNitt, also return to anchor the O-line, which will feature four returning vets. Defense should also be in good hands, with DE Jett Kelly, D-tackles Sikora and McNitt, and Traore and Leon Allen back at LB in the Bears’ new-look 4-3 scheme.
QUESTION MARK: Gone is QB Cole Patrick, who lit up opposing secondaries for 2,570 yards and 26 touchdowns last year, when E-town earned a playoff spot in Breault’s rookie year on the gig. The second-year skipper lists Patrick Gilhool and Josh Rudy on his QB depth chart heading into camp; Gilhool, a rising sophomore, attempted four passes last season. E-town must also replace sure-handed wideouts Cole Livingston (37-670, 10 TD), Alex Diahn (32-609, 6 TD), Dylan Sweger (24-378, 2 TD) and now Pierson. Keep your eyes squarely on Cole Rice and Cole Hitz to step into those roles in the Bears’ Spread attack. They’ll also play safety on D.
CIRCLE THE DATE: Week 4 at Cocalico. It’ll be the Section 2 opener for the Bears, so a fast start would definitely be a bonus. The L-L League schedule-makers certainly didn’t do E-town any favors; in Week 5 the Bears get Manheim Central.
GARDEN SPOT SPARTANS
COACH: Matt Zamperini (11th season; 56-52 overall).
LAST YEAR: 0-6 Section 2 (7th place); 0-10 overall.
NUGGET: Zamperini returns for his second stint as Spartans’ skipper, after an earlier 10-year clip in New Holland. We included his complete career record above. His task: Getting Garden Spot turned around after a winless campaign in 2018, which saw the Spartans finish last in Section 2 in total team offense and total team defense. The only way to go is up in Spotty Nation.
KEY KIDS: The good news is that a pair of offensive stalwarts are due back in camp, including QB Jesse Martin and RB Jon Dykie. Martin can run like the wind; he rushed for 593 yards with five TD keepers, and he also passed for 564 yards and four scores in his debut season behind center last year. Meanwhile, Dykie firmly established himself as one of the most durable backs in Section 2, gouging out 839 yards with five TD scampers. Martin was also an all-star pick at DB.
QUESTION MARK: Coach Z is back in his familiar stomping grounds, so we’re anxious to see what he adds to the equation. Garden Spot had some big seasons under his watch — including four playoff trips — and he got things turned around after a 0-10 campaign in 2009. Can Zamperini do it again? That is the question as the Spartans begin their re-boot.
CIRCLE THE DATE: Week 1 vs. Daniel Boone. Welcome back, Coach Zamperini. Fresh start, and a fast start start would do wonders in the psyche department for this group.
COACH: John Manion (22nd season; 157-78 overall).
NUGGET: Including last season’s trip, L-S has now gone to the D3 playoffs the last 11 years in a row under Manion, who is the longest-tenured head coach in the L-L League. He’s been tooting his whistle and calling the shots in Lampeter since 1997.
KEY KIDS: Skill kids aplenty due back in Pioneers’ camp, including dual-threat QB Sean McTaggart, pass-catchers Austin Stoltzfus and Jacob Kopelman and ball-carriers Bryan McKim and Alex Knapp. And if you know L-S’s Spread Wing-T, you know the Pioneers like to move the ball around, and they have the perfect maestro in McTaggart to make that happen. He passed for 1,714 yards, rushed for 706 yards, and accounted for 24 scores last fall. He’ll find ways to get the McKim-Knapp-Stoltzus-Kopelman fearsome foursome the ball. Three more names to remember: OT Zac Shelley will anchor the O-line, and LB Christian Garver and DB Logan Bradley will spearhead the Pioneers’ new-look 3-Stack D.
QUESTION MARK: Some heavy hitters sashayed out the door on graduation night, including trench stalwarts Jack Eckman, Tyler Phenegar, Connor Blantz and Cam D’Imperio, plus playmakers Joey Underwood, Gabe Frederick and J.T. Hake. Those guys will be missed, and Manion has some hole-plugging to do in those spots. But there is a good nucleus here — especially in the skill-kid department. L-S’s offense is going to stretch people.
CIRCLE THE DATE: Two of them, actually. Week 4 vs. Conestoga Valley in the Lampeter Bowl rivalry. And Week 8 vs. Solanco in the annual Milk Jug scrap. Both are Section 2 showdowns, and both are home dates on the turf this year for L-S. The Pioneers will be out to recapture those trophies this time around, after falling to CV and Solanco last fall.
MANHEIM CENTRAL BARONS
COACH: Dave Hahn (5th season; 48-7 overall).
LAST YEAR: 6-0 Section 2 (champions); 14-1 overall (beat Governor Mifflin 51-14 in D3-5A quarterfinals; beat Cedar Cliff 42-20 in D3-5A semifinals; beat Cocalico 48-14 in D3-5A championship; beat Upper Dublin 34-12 in PIAA-5A state semifinals; lost to Penn Hills 36-31 in PIAA-5A state championship).
NUGGET: Central is 26-2 in its last 28 games, 34-3 in its last 37 games, and the Barons will open this season riding a nifty 25-game regular-season unbeaten streak, dating back to that Section 2 loss at Cocalico in 2016. They’ve won or shared the last four Section 2 titles in a row, and they’re the back-to-back reigning D3-5A champ.
KEY KIDS: Gotta start with the Barons’ D1 QB commit, Evan Simon. The Rutgers pledge and Central’s poised Spread pilot is closing in fast on Jeff Smoker’s program passing-yard mark, and all Simon did in his junior campaign last fall was throw for a school-record 2,753 yards with 30 TD heaves, plus 12 TD keepers and another 661 yards on the ground, helping the Barons go to the state title game for the fourth time. Simon’s 59 career TD passes are already most in school history, and he’ll be out to snap some sort of record pretty much every week. Simon will have a pair of experienced wideouts at his disposal in twins Colby Wagner (26-832, 12 TD) and Ben Wagner (22-449, 4 TD), plus holdover TE Jake Martin and bulldozer H-back Jake Harbach. Meanwhile, DT Troy Kolk and D-ends Tyler Hartl and Harbach are due back to lead the Barons’ 4-2-5 D look.
QUESTION MARK: There are some holes to plug in Baron Nation, especially in the backfield, where Hahn must find a replacement for the program’s all-time leading rusher, Tyler Flick. He scooted for 1,831 yards and 33 scores last fall, and he’ll be missed. The O-line — forever and ever Central’s bread and butter — will also look different with the loss of stalwarts Josh Painter, Tyler Dougherty, Brett Wolgemuth and Cayden Warner; Kolk, who will shift to left tackle to protect Simon's blind side, is the lone returning vet there. Hahn charts 10 total returning starters due back for the start of camp, and the graduation list from 2018 was littered with all-stars. But hey, it’s Central. We aren’t worried either.
CIRCLE THE DATE: Plenty of showdowns on the Barons’ slate — Section 1 heavyweights Hempfield and Warwick are in the nonleague portion, and that L-L-mandated crossover clash in Week 4 at Wilson is juicy — but Week 6 vs. Cocalico in Manheim will be must-see stuff.
SOLANCO GOLDEN MULES
COACH: Tony Cox (6th season; 32-22 overall).
LAST YEAR: 2-4 Section 2 (tied for 5th place); 7-5 overall (beat Waynesboro 49-0 in first round of D3-5A playoffs; lost to Cocalico 36-0 in D3-5A quarterfinals).
NUGGET: Solanco has been to the D3 playoffs three times in the last five years, including last fall, when the Mules clocked Waynesboro to notch the program’s third postseason victory.
KEY KIDS: Solanco lost some major firepower to graduation, so things might look a smidge different in Quarryville at the outset. There are a few familiar faces due back, however. Like rugged FB Nick Yannutz, who rumbled for 839 yards and three scores last fall, one year after barreling for 1,000 yards in his breakout sophomore season. He’ll be called upon to do big things in Solanco’s Flexbone attack, no doubt. Justin Dagen is also set to return to the O-line, but he’ll have several fresh faces flanking him in the trenches. The Mules are also set to return three playmakers on defense in D-tackle Nate Neuhauser and swarming ‘backers Chad Carter and Seth Harnish in Solanco’s 4-3 set.
QUESTION MARK: First and foremost, the all-important quarterback spot. Solanco must replace 3-year starter and last year’s L-L League regular-season rushing leader Joel McGuire, who was a pitch-man extraordinaire for the Mules. Holdover Grady Unger, who attempted one pass and chipped in with one TD keeper last fall, is penciled in as the top man on the depth chart heading into camp. Solanco must also replace 1,000-yard RB Nafis Moore, an all-star pick and a real burner on the corner.
CIRCLE THE DATE: Week 8 at L-S for the annual Milk Jug rivalry game.