HIGH-STEPPIN’ BOLT — Littlestown’s William Shoemaker tries to elude a Delone Catholic defender during their YAIAA-3 game last season. Shoemaker is the leading returning rusher and receiver for a Thunderbolt team that went 7-4 and qualified for the District 3 Class 3A playoffs.

When a person develops a normal routine, they often become a creature of habit. If they have an inability to adjust, that can make things really hard on that individual and those around them.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made 2020 anything but a normal year for practically everyone, and high school football coaches and players are no different. It took months to know if the season was even going to be played this fall and clearance wasn’t given until a few weeks ago. But teams had to prepare prior to that, without even knowing whether or not there would be a season.

“We’ve spent a lot of time in the weight room in the past and that’s been impossible this year, for obvious reasons,” Littlestown head coach Mike Lippy said. “We tried to do other things to prepare the kids for the season and I think they were so happy when they were finally able to get together and work out. They’ve worked so hard to get ready for this season.”

Lippy was quick to praise the work of Littlestown athletic director Jeff Laux, along with school administration and the school board.

“You want the kids to realize that this is a unique situation and you want to respect the people that have put this together,” Lippy said. “I’m very proud of our kids, the athletic director and everyone else who has helped to get us here. We owe it to them to put in the effort to follow the guidelines and try to play a full season.”

The season, which is set for seven games and only YAIAA-3 contests, begins on Friday, Sept. 18 for the Thunderbolts when they play at York Catholic.

Lippy will need to find a replacement under center as Zach Ressler graduated in the spring. Ressler threw for 974 yards and nine touchdowns last season, while running for eight more.

He’s got three candidates for the job and hasn’t made a decision on the starter yet. Senior T.J. Huffman, junior Xavier Benner and sophomore Connor Healy are vying for the spot.

“We’re trying to spread the reps out to get a look at as many kids as possible and all three of our quarterbacks have done some good things. But none of them has done enough yet to be named the starter,” Lippy said. “Without a freshmen team this year, we pulled them all up and have 60 kids on the roster, which is a lot for us. We’ve got some decisions to make here soon.”

At running back, senior William Shoemaker (605 yards, 5 TDs) returns, while Wyatt Kramer (605 yards, 8 TDs) and Memphis Stonesifer (270 yards, 5 TDs) both graduated.

The wideout spot is particularly sparse when it comes to experience with junior Austin Grammes being the leader in returning receptions from wideouts with two. Shoemaker snagged eight balls out of the backfield. Leading receivers Dustyn Barker (24 catches) and Austin Brown (14 catches) and tight end Brayden Staub (16 receptions) all graduated.

Though Lippy mentioned a trio of sophomores who could potentially turn some heads at wide receiver. Lucas Denault, Nathan Thomas and Anthony Shirdon all drew a mention.

The line on both sides has the most returning depth with seniors Jeremy Gebhart, Reese Huth and Dakota Kroft, along with juniors Logan Lanning and Bryce Redding all coming off of seasons where they were starters.

Shoemaker and Grammes both started in the defensive backfield, while Denault and Thomas were also mentioned as potential contributors.

Shirdon could see some time at linebacker, where no starters return.

With the resignation of Bermudian Springs’ Jon DeFoe, Lippy takes over as the most tenured head coach in the Times Area at 18 seasons. He’s been a part of the Bolts’ staff for 25 years.

“It means I’m older than everybody else,” Lippy said with a laugh when asked what it meant to be most seasoned coach. “I never thought I’d do it for this long. I’ve enjoyed the kids and the coaches that I’ve worked with more than I ever could’ve imagined.”

Bermudian won’t be the only program with a new leader in the division, as Biglerville and Hanover have also hired new coaches since the end of last season.

“I have tremendous respect and I’ll miss the coaches that aren’t back this season,” Lippy said. “We developed a strong relationship over the years. We used to get together for dinner and talk football. It was just a good time.”

In the previous few seasons, six teams have qualified for the District 3 Class 3A playoffs. This year, due to COVID-19, that number has been reduced to four. The Bolts will look to qualify for the postseason for the fifth straight year and the 10th time in the past 12 seasons. They’re also looking to capture the YAIAA-3 crown, something they last accomplished in 2017.

“We’re trying to do what we’ve been doing and keep being successful,” Lippy said. “We’ve had a lot of success here, won a lot of games and we hope to keep that going this year.”

Follow Tom Sixeas on Twitter at @TomSixeas

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