While all of the teams gathered Thursday at the YAIAA Football Media Day in Hanover felt optimistic about the upcoming season, it wasn’t hard to tell that the Gettysburg and New Oxford coaches and players were a little more confident than most.
Despite differing outcomes with respect to their 2018 campaigns – Gettysburg won the Y-2 title while New Oxford finished near the bottom of Division 1 – both squads enter 2019 with a lot of encouraging factors.
Both have standout quarterbacks returning.
Both feel good about their respective offensive and defensive lines.
And both have a lot of experience and talent coming back from last year’s squads.
Led by Matt Heiser, the 2018 YAIAA-2 Coach of the Year, the Warriors earned the program’s first-ever York-Adams title a season ago with a perfect 6-0 division mark.
With nine returning starters back on both sides of the ball, Heiser and his team are rightfully feeling upbeat about a repeat performance.
“They’re working hard,” Heiser said. “They’re a great group of boys and they have great chemistry together. They’re focused and they put in a lot of time this summer. I know there’s a lot of excitement and they’re ready to go.”
A great deal of team success in football can be directly attributed to the quarterback. And with Zach Ketterman back for his senior season, the Warriors know they will have one of the best signal callers in the area to count on.
Defensively, there’s a lot to be excited for at Gettysburg. Coach Heiser’s son, Austin, is back a season after earning the YAIAA-2 Defensive Player of the Year honors. So are fellow all-stars in Charles Warren (WR/RB/LB), Devin McIntosh (OL/DL), Gunner Pennington (RB/LB) and Hunter Williams (OL/DL).
“I’m excited for the defense,” coach Heiser said. “I think we can certainly make things happen on that side of the ball.”
Perhaps the only real disappointment from how the 2018 season concluded was the team’s District 3 quarterfinal loss to Conrad Weiser. The Warriors held a 21-10 lead at the break before falling in double-overtime, 34-28.
While a lot of that same talent returns this season, Ammon Robinson, the star of last year’s season and one of the saving graces in that district loss, has graduated. Robinson, the Y-2 Offensive Player of the Year, set a school-record with 1,534 yards rushing, breaking Jason Shelton’s record of 1,434 yards set back in 1993. He also ran for a record 29 touchdowns.
Trying to find ways to reproduce Robinson’s production won’t be easy. Heiser, however, didn’t sound worried about the stable of players that he has looking to step up. Instead, his focus is on a slightly different area of the run game.
“If Ammon were here right now, he’d tell you that everything depends on the big guys up front,” Heiser said. “If the big guys are working for him, he’s going to make the yards. And my heart always hangs with the big guys, because they’re the ones mostly responsible for it, but they don’t get all the praise a lot of times.”
Heiser pointed to kids like Warren, Ruger Pennington, Gunner Pennington, Taysean Foster and others as the ones that will certainly see more touches with Robinson departed.
Even with so much talent returning, Heiser isn’t resting on his laurels. The other division teams — York Suburban, Kennard-Dale, Eastern York, Dover, West York and Susquehannock — all have quite a bit of experience and talent returning as well.
“I expect it’s going to be really tough in division 2,” Heiser said. “I mean everyone has a lot of talent on their teams and they’re well-coached so it should make for another exciting season.”
NEW OXFORD COLONIALS
Perhaps the only reason that Brayden Long was not named a YAIAA all-star at quarterback a season ago was the fact that the division was loaded with talent at that position. Central York’s Cade Pribula, who is now at Delaware, and Red Lion’s Zach Mentzer both were outstanding in leading their respective teams to the District 3 playoffs.
With both of those standouts gone and many of the teams in the division looking to first-year starters at the QB position, the Colonials are optimistic to have a signal-caller the caliber of Long in the fold.
Long, who has already received at least one D-1 scholarship offer, finished fourth in the Y-A in passing as a junior. He tallied 1,878 yards passing while tossing 17 touchdowns with only 9 interceptions in his first season under coach Jason Warner.
“Last year was a bit of a step in the right direction,” Long said in reference to the team’s 0-10 campaign during his sophomore season. “But I really feel that we have a strong core of senior guys back that are ready to lead the way.”
While talented receivers Luke Lardarello and Connor Becker, who combined for over 70 catches and 700 yards last year, have graduated, one of Long’s favorite targets is back in Abdul Janneh.
Janneh, a division all-star last year, led the team in receiving yards with 473 as well as touchdowns with 11.
Both Long and Janneh were also teammates on the New Oxford boys’ basketball team that played for the Y-A playoff title a season ago.
“You build chemistry being with someone like my receiver, Abdul, in basketball,” Long said. “We’re with each other all the time and that just makes us comfortable with each other even more.”
Getting comfortable was certainly a goal last year. Warner took over for Jason Thurston, who stepped down after the 2017 season. Admittedly, it took a while for both the offense and defense to get used to the adjustment of playing for a new coach.
That experience, however, figures to pay off this time around.
“Last year was our first year installing a new system,” New Oxford line coach Derek Starner said. “And now that we have that base understanding, we’re looking to build off that.”
While the Colonials may not be able to match the size up front of some of the other teams in the division, Starner is hoping to use speed to its advantage. That starts with a pair of returning all-stars in senior Zander Stambaugh and Jarred Rolle.
“We only lost one starting lineman from last year,” Rolle said of Tyler Lacey, a 2018 all-star. “So I feel that we have a really strong core in the line. We just need some guys to step up so that we can rotate on the line and stay fresh. We’re not the biggest, but we’re fast.”
If things go right for the Colonials this year, there’s no reason to believe the squad can’t flip its 3-7 mark from a season ago. Even going against a schedule that includes six District 3 playoff squads from 2018, Long expressed his desire to accomplish such a daunting task.
“We’re not going to run away from anyone,” he said. “Whether it’s Central, Red Lion or William Penn, we’re going to go after them.”