Both John Livelsberger and Brett Smyers were met with extraordinarily unique circumstances in their respective first seasons as head football coaches in Adams County.
Livelsberger, who took the reins from Jon DeFoe at Bermudian Springs, and Smyers, who replaced Alex Ramos at Biglerville, both faced interesting challenges amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It really helped that I was on staff for a good period of time before this,” said Livelsberger, who had previously served as an assistant for DeFoe for 11 years. “I can’t imagine if I had to figure out everything and build those relationships with everything going on. It was a huge advantage being in the program.”
Similarly, Smyers served as a line coach under Ramos from 2013 to 2019.
“Thankfully I had been around the program, but not knowing whether you’d even had a season or not was tough,” Smyers said. “Once we got going, it was a bit tough to install new things because you didn’t have all the time you’d normally have with the guys.”
Smyers took over a struggling Canners program and led it to a 2-5 mark, but the record can be deceiving. Biglerville finished the season with just a minus-35 point differential, something Smyers says is a sign that his team was better than the record showed.
“Yeah, if you look we were in just about every game except for a couple,” he said. “But sometimes it just comes down to a couple of things here or there. If you look at our loss to Fairfield, I think we had something like 13 or 14 penalties and those are the types of things you like to think you’d get ironed out with just a little more time with the kids.”
Livelsberger, meanwhile, was at the helm of a consistently strong Eagles team that was solid yet again in 2020, finishing third in YAIAA-3 with a 4-2 record before eventually falling to Middletown in the District 3 Class 3A semifinals.
“Our preseason was extended a little bit without the additional three non-league games and I think that helped us a bit,” he said. “ It gave us a little more practice time and we were able to figure out when to maximize contact versus when to prioritize safety because obviously, you can’t go into Friday night and not have any contact.”
Both coaches echoed one another when discussing what the message was to their teams each week when facing an uncertain future.
“We told them every day that each week, and each game they got to play, was a gift,” Livelsberger said. “We prepped like that and I think that attitude really helped them throughout the season. Between that and the shortened practice time, they really gave their all every time they were out on the field.”
Though both Smyers and Livelsberger also felt like the inability to gather off the field made it difficult to form the bond that is usually seen among teams.
“As far as team-building, I felt it was a bit of a hit to that because you can’t go out and do some of the things away from the field to build that chemistry,” said Smyers. “I had planned some things to try to bring the guys together and with COVID, obviously, we weren’t able to do that.”
One particular area where issues were presented was in the weight room, where Livelsberger says major changes had to be made.
“It was tough to establish a culture,” he said. “Particularly in the weight room when you want to form those good habits. You want to have guys in there working on improving. We couldn’t do that as much as we would have liked and when we could they had to be broken up into smaller groups, so that was obviously a little difficult.”
Looking forward, Smyers says while the circumstances for his first season were not ideal, there are things that he feels he can apply going forward.
“One of the things we tell the kids is that you have to be prepared regardless of circumstances,” he said. “In football and in life, things aren’t always going to go the way you planned. So it’s important to be ready for that and to be adaptable and that’s something I think the kids really understood with the way this season went in particular.”
Contact Clayton Sauertieg at email@example.com