They are the field generals. The skippers. The men at the helm of the 24 Lancaster-Lebanon League football programs. And they are set to lead their squads into battle on Aug. 10 — dare we say COVID-19 measures permitting — when heat acclimatization practices get started across the state.
Two quick observations: First, a friendly reminder that the L-L League goes to four sections this season — for two years, before Berks County comes aboard in 2022, when there will be changes aplenty in the local gridiron landscape — and there are four new skippers in the saddle this season, after an offseason of some turnover in league circles.
Hey, it happens. So here’s a look at the league’s 24 head coaches — including several veterans, plenty of holdovers and those four newbies —and the programs they are guiding as summer workouts continue under every district’s health and safety plans:
CEDAR CREST FALCONS
Coach: Rob Wildasin.
Inside the numbers: This will be Wildasin’s seventh season as Head Falcon, and Cedar Crest is 32-29 under his watch.
Playoff resume: Wildasin has guided the Falcons to the D3 playoffs three times, including last fall, when Cedar Crest was tripped up in the first round of the Class 6A bracket by eventual champ Central Dauphin, for a 7-4 finish.
Nugget: The Falcons went D3 dancing in 2015 and 2017 under Wildasin, and the 2015 trip was Cedar Crest’s first playoff appearance since 1999.
HEMPFIELD BLACK KNIGHTS
Coach: George Eager.
Inside the numbers: This will be Eager’s rookie year on the job in Landisville, as he slides in for Ron Zeiber, who stepped down following last season after guiding the Black Knights to a 52-47 record — and six D3 playoff trips — the previous nine years.
Nugget: At age 33, Eager will be the youngest head football coach in the L-L League. The former Manheim Township and Franklin & Marshall standout wideout also had coaching stints as an assistant at Township, F&M, Wilson and Hempfield before getting the head-coaching gig this offseason.
MANHEIM TOWNSHIP BLUE STREAKS
Coach: Mark Evans.
Inside the numbers: This will be Evans’ ninth season as the Blue Streaks’ skipper, and Township is 68-29 under his watch, including an 11-1 campaign last fall.
Playoff resume: Evans has taken Township to the D3 playoffs in all seven of his seasons on the gig in Neffsville, and the Streaks are 7-6 in those games, and they won the 2017 Class 6A championship. Last fall, Township fell to eventual champ Central Dauphin in the semifinals, after a stirring quarterfinal-round victory over Cumberland Valley.
Nugget: Evans has led Township to three L-L League Section 1 championships in a row, with outright crowns in 2017 and 2019 and a tri-title with Warwick and Wilson in 2018. The Streaks are 18-1 in their last 19 section games under Evans, who is set for his 23rd season overall as a head coach, including his time at Elco. Overall, his teams are 142-98, so Evans can hit the 150-victory mark with eight wins this season.
McCASKEY RED TORNADO
Coach: Sam London.
Inside the numbers: London is set for his second season in Tornado Alley, and McCaskey is jonesing for a victory after a 0-10 finish last fall.
Nugget: London has added a familiar name in District 1 circles to his coaching staff in former Coatesville QB Emmett Hunt, who passed for 3,100 yards and 44 touchdowns in leading the Red Raiders to the 2012 D1 championship and into the PIAA Class 4A state finals. London is a Coatesville grad himself, and he was an assistant at Lincoln University and at Cheyney University before landing at McCaskey last year. London is also a decorated veteran; he was in the Air Force and served in Iraq.
PENN MANOR COMETS
Coach: John Brubaker.
Inside the numbers: Season No. 6 in Millersville on tap for Brubaker, and the Comets are 9-41 under his guidance.
Playoff resume: No postseason trips.
Nugget: You might have heard of Brubaker’s running backs and linebackers coach. He’s none other than former Manheim Central and Pittsburgh Steelers standout Dan Kreider, who is back to help out in the Comets’ program for another season after his NFL days.
Coach: Doug Dahms.
Inside the numbers: This will be Dahms’ 15th season in the saddle in West Lawn, and the Bulldogs are 155-30 under his watchful eye. Dahms is the Bulldogs’ winningest football coach; he snapped John Gurski’s previous mark of 151 victories last fall, when Wilson went 10-2.
Playoff resume: The Bulldogs are up to 41 D3 playoff games played under Dahms, after Wilson reached the Class 6A semifinals last fall, bowing out to Harrisburg. The Bulldogs are 31-10 in D3 playoff games under Dahms, with championships in 2008 (over Cumberland Valley in 4A), 2012 (over Harrisburg in 4A), 2014 (over Central Dauphin in 4A) and 2016 (over Cumberland Valley in 6A).
Nugget: Dahms is set to begin his — gulp — 45th season in Wilson’s program. He should be starting his patented season-long beard growth right about now.
Coach: Bryan Strohl.
Inside the numbers: Strohl is one of four first-year skippers in the L-L League. He succeeds Dave Gingrich, who stepped down after guiding the Eagles to the D3 Class 5A championship last fall — and to a 130-60 record in his 16 years on the job in Denver. Some mighty big shoes for Strohl to step into, no doubt.
Nugget: Strohl is certainly no stranger in Cocalico’s program; he’s spent the last 15 years on Gingrich’s staff, where he’s coached running backs and linebackers for the Eagles. Strohl is a 2001 Ephrata grad, and he played football in college for Susquehanna University before taking a teaching job at Cocalico. He inherits a team that dips down from Class 5A to 4A this season — but must still cope with the usual Section 2 grind, including a D3 rematch against Warwick on the docket.
CONESTOGA VALLEY BUCKSKINS
Coach: Gerad Novak.
Inside the numbers: Novak returns for his fifth season — in his second stint — as the Buckskins’ skipper, and CV is 15-25 over that clip. Overall, this will be Novak’s 19th season as the Bucks’ head coach, making him one of the longest-tenured coaches in the L-L League, along with Evans, Lampeter-Strasburg’s John Manion and Warwick’s Bob Locker, who are all at 20-plus years on the job.
Playoff resume: No postseason trips during Novak’s second run as CV’s coach, but he took the Bucks D3 dancing four times in his first go-round, between 1994 and 2008. CV was 3-4 in those appearances.
Nugget: Novak guided CV to a pair of D3 4A title games, in 1994 and again in 2000, but the Bucks lost to longtime section rival Manheim Central in both of those showdowns. Novak has retired as a teacher at CV, but remains on to coach football. He’s also an L-L League basketball official.
Coach: Andy Breault.
Inside the numbers: It’s Year No. 3 for Breault, and the Bears are 10-11 under his watch. He’s a hometown hero and former E-town and Kutztown University QB.
Playoff resume: One D3 playoff trip under Breault for the Bears, and that was in his rookie year in 2018, when E-town fell to Governor Mifflin in a first-round clash.
Nugget: Two very familiar names jump off the page when dissecting Breault’s coaching staff, which includes his son, former Bears’ standout Kirby Breault, and former E-town and Donegal head coach Jeff Polites, who is back helping out in E-town’s program.
MANHEIM CENTRAL BARONS
Coach: Dave Hahn.
Inside the numbers: This will be Hahn’s sixth season as Head Baron, and Central is 57-10 under his tutelage.
Playoff resume: Hahn has led the Barons to the D3 playoffs in each of his first five seasons on the job, and Central is 12-4 in those appearances, including a last-second loss against Warwick in last year’s Class 5A quarterfinals. The Barons had their back-to-back run as 5A champs snapped last season, and they are also 1-2 in the state playoffs under Hahn, including a trip to the 2018 PIAA finals.
Nugget: Despite three setbacks last fall — to D3 6A quarterfinalist Wilson and twice to D3 5A semifinalist Warwick — Central is still 43-7 in its last 50 games under Hahn.
SOLANCO GOLDEN MULES
Coach: Tony Cox.
Inside the numbers: Cox is set for his seventh season at Solanco, and the Mules are 37-28 under his watch.
Playoff resume: Solanco made its fourth playoff appearance under Cox last fall, when Shippensburg outlasted the Mules 42-35 in a first-round thriller. Solanco is 3-4 in D3 games under Cox.
Nugget: Cox guided Solanco to the D3 3A semifinals in 2015 for the program’s deepest postseason trip.
Coach: Bob Locker.
Inside the numbers: This will be Locker’s 20th season on the sidelines in Lititz, and the Warriors are 98-101 under his guidance. He’ll join the 100-win club with two more victories this fall, as Warwick gets back after it after winning 10 games and going to the D3 Class 5A semifinals last season.
Playoff resume: Locker took Warwick to the D3 playoffs for the seventh time last season, and it was easily the Warriors’ best trip; Warwick beat Manheim Central at the horn in an unforgettable quarterfinal-round clash, before falling to eventual champ Cocalico in the semifinals. Ironically, Cocalico and Central will be section-rival games for Warwick in this upcoming two-year cycle. Those dates should already be circled on your calendars.
Nugget: At 20 years on the job, Locker is the second-longest tenured coach in the L-L League, behind Evans at Township (and Elco before that) and Manion at L-S, who both got started back in 1997.
Coach: Chad Risberg.
Inside the numbers: Risberg is set for his third season as the Indians’ skipper, and Donegal is 12-8 under his watch.
Playoff resume: Back-to-back winning seasons, and Donegal is four games over .500 under Risberg, but the Indians didn’t qualify for the D3 playoffs in 2018 or 2019. But they were really close to getting in both times.
Nugget: How close were Risberg and his Indians to getting in the 4A bracket last fall? Conrad Weiser edged out Donegal by 0.028906 percentage points for the final spot.
Coach: Kris Miller.
Inside the numbers: Miller is set for his fifth season, and Ephrata is 11-29 under his guidance, including a 6-4 record last fall, when the Mounts won six games for the first time in nearly 20 years.
Playoff resume: Ephrata was the bubble team in D3 5A last fall; the top 14 qualified — Solanco was the last team in — and the Mounts finished the season on the dreaded 15-line. Ephrata is still looking for its first playoff trip since 1987.
Nugget: After that otherwise forgettable 52-game losing streak, Miller and his Mounts are 11-9 in their last 20 games, and there are plenty of positive vibes flowing in Ephrata’s program. And this: Miller is the new president of the L-L League Quarterback Club.
GARDEN SPOT SPARTANS
Coach: Matt Zamperini.
Inside the numbers: It’s the second year in his second stint as Spartans’ skipper for Zamperini. Garden Spot went 0-10 last season, so in 11 total seasons on the job in New Holland, the Spartans are 56-62 under Zamperini’s watch.
Playoff resume: Between 2006 and 2015, Zamperini took Sparty to the D3 playoffs four times, and the Spartans were 2-6 in those games, including a 3A semifinal trip in 2008. Half of Garden Spot’s D3 playoff losses under Zamperini are at the hands of league rival Manheim Central.
Nugget: One of Zamperini’s first orders of business this fall will be helping the Spartans snap their current losing skid, which is sitting at 24 head-scratching games in a row. Garden Spot’s last victory: 49-7 over Ephrata on Oct. 6, 2017 in New Holland. Coach Z and his Spartans will have some new surroundings this season, as they shift down to Section 3 for the next two-year cycle.
LANCASTER CATHOLIC CRUSADERS
Coach: Chris Maiorino.
Inside the numbers: Maiorino is one of the four new skippers around the L-L League this fall. He steps in for Todd Mealy, who guided the Crusaders to a 20-3 record and back-to-back Section 3 championships in his two years on the job in Lancaster.
Nugget: Maiorino had previous stints as an assistant coach at McCaskey (with Mealy), Penn Manor (under Mealy) and Catholic (under Mealy) before getting the keys to the Crusaders’ program. Maiorino is a line coach by trade; now he’s calling the shots at Catholic.
Coach: Frank Isenberg.
Inside the numbers: Another newbie, Isenberg slides into the Cedars’ head-coaching gig replacing Gerry Yonchiuk, who guided Lebanon to a 48-95 record over the last 14 seasons. Yonchiuk has since landed at Central York as the Panthers’ new head coach; Isenberg previously served as Yonchiuk’s defensive coordinator for the Cedars.
Nugget: Isenberg knows his way around Lebanon’s locker room. He was on Yonchiuk’s staff from 2007 through 2014, and after a one-year stint as a line coach at Lebanon Valley College, he returned to the Cedars’ program in 2016.
Coach: John Manion.
Inside the numbers: Manion is set for his 23rd season in Lampeter, and the Pioneers are 168-82 under his watch, including last year’s 11-4 mark, including the second D3 championship in program history — an unforgettable 35-21 win over kingpin Berks Catholic.
Playoff resume: Manion has taken L-S to the D3 playoffs 13 times, including last year’s championship run, when the Pioneers KO’d longtime D3 powers Bishop McDevitt and Berks Catholic in back-to-back weeks to mine gold. Alas, L-S was tripped up by eventual PIAA champ Thomas Jefferson in the state semifinals, but it was quite a ride for Manion and his crew. Manion also led L-S to the 2007 D3 4A title with a win over Gettysburg, and the Pioneers also made the D3 4A championship game in 2011. They’ll go for back-to-back district crowns this fall in some new surrounds: Section 3 is L-S’s new home for the next two years. And the Pioneers will be joined by reigning 5A champ Cocalico in the 4A field. Keep that in your memory banks.
Nugget: Manion and Evans, at Township, are the league’s graybeards; they’re both set for their 23rd season this fall. Locker, at Warwick, is next with 19 in the books and his 20th on tap. Think of all the great players and teams they’ve seen come through these parts over the years.
ANNVILLE-CLEONA LITTLE DUTCHMEN
Coach: Matt Gingrich.
Inside the numbers: Gingrich is set for his sixth season on the job in Annville, and the Dutchmen are 33-21 under his watch.
Playoff resume: A-C went to the D3 playoffs for the fourth time under Gingrich last fall, and the Dutchmen finally broke through, winning a postseason game for the first time in program history. A-C fell to eventual champ Wyomissing in the 2A semifinals, but the Dutchmen finally got that postseason W.
Nugget: He’s the last Gingrich standing; Matt’s older brother Dave stepped down at Cocalico, leaving Matt to rep the family in coaching circles this fall.
COLUMBIA CRIMSON TIDE
Coach: Bud Kyle.
Inside the numbers: This will be Kyle’s third season on the job up on the hill in Columbia, and the Tide is 7-23 under his tutelage.
Playoff resume: No playoff trips for the Tide under Kyle, but Columbia came up just shy in each of his first two seasons. Last fall, the Tide finished just 0.1154 percentage points out of spot in the 2A bracket — one year after needing a Week 10 win to get in. Will this be the season Columbia breaks through?
Nugget: After a 0-10 finish in his debut season, Kyle has guided Columbia to seven wins in the last two seasons, as the Tide continues to make strides and push for playoff spots.
Coach: Bob Miller.
Inside the numbers: Miller is readying for his ninth season in Myerstown, and the Raiders are 41-40 under his watch, including a 7-4 season last fall to push him over the .500 mark.
Playoff resume: After zero playoff appearances since 2009, Miller has taken Elco to the postseason the last two years in a row, both in Class 4A. Both of those games were against league foe Lampeter-Strasburg, and the Pioneers won both times, including last year, when L-S went on to capture D3 gold.
Nugget: Miller has led Elco to 15 wins and two playoff trips in the last two years, as the Raiders have now gone postseason dancing six times in program history.
NORTHERN LEBANON VIKINGS
Coach: Roy Wall.
Inside the numbers: This will be season No. 11 for Wall in Fredericksburg, and the Vikings are 46-57 under his watch.
Playoff resume: Wall has taken Northern Lebanon to the D3 playoffs three times, but the Vikings are 0-3 in those games, with first-round setbacks in 2014 (Conrad Weiser in 3A), 2015 (Northeastern York in 3A) and 2017 (Lampeter-Strasburg in 4A).
Nugget: Northern Lebanon has fallen back in the pack the last couple of years — the Vikes are just 2-18 in their last 20 games — but under Wall, they had a sizzling stretch, winning Section 3 championships in 2014, 2015 and 2017, going to the D3 playoffs in each of those three seasons.
Coach: Jed King.
Inside the numbers: King is set for his 13th season in Atglen, as the Braves set sail in their third season as full-time L-L League members. Octorara is 26-87 under King’s watch.
Playoff resume: One postseason trip for Octorara, and that was a District 1 nod under King a couple of years back.
Nugget: King, a Solanco grad, has been the only head coach in the history of Octorara’s football program.
PEQUEA VALLEY BRAVES
Coach: Jeff Werner.
Inside the numbers: It’s Year No. 2 for Werner, as the Braves went 0-10 in his rookie campaign last fall.
Nugget: Pequea Valley’s losing streak hit 20 in a row last season; the Braves’ last victory was Nov. 3, 2017, a 28-27 triumph at Elco. Werner would love to see that streak get snapped early this fall.