Quick hits from YAIAA Media Day
Another Media Day has come and gone, and this one had all the familiar calling cards. Optimism is sky high. Excitement is soaring. Players and coaches, tired of 7-on-7s and summer workouts, are ready for the real hitting to begin.
Anything, it seems, is possible. That's what makes events like this so fun.
We'll have plenty of leftover media day material up here during the next few days. (I haven't even transcribed all of my interviews yet.) In the meantime, you can check out our print coverage, or hit up the jump for some quick hit notes from yesterday's session.
Hepler to Winthrop: One of the more interesting tidbits from Thursday's Media was not football related.
West York senior Kaden Hepler, one of the league's top quarterbacks, has committed to a college ... for baseball. A standout pitcher for the Bulldogs, Hepler plans to continue his career at Division I Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C.
"I love football, and I love baseball too," Hepler said Thursday. "I just kind of said to myself, what do you like the most, and what do you have the most opportunity to play at the next level? I decided baseball is the right thing for me."
A hard-throwing right-hander, Hepler notched a 6-3 record and 3.00 ERA for the Bulldogs last season. He struck out 88 in 49 innings, thanks to a fastball that touches the 90s and a big breaking curve ball.
In the more immediate term, Hepler will try to duplicate his performance on the football field last fall, when he piled up 1,625 passing yards, 18 passing touchdowns and a .559 completion percentage.
Hepler and Red Lion's Tanner Klinefelter are the league's top two returning quarterbacks this season. Others to watch: Central York's Brandon Baker, Delone Catholic's Brett Smith, Northeastern's Nick Small and Littlestown's Dustin Crouse, who take over a Thunderbolts offense that has produced a series of prolific passers over the last few years.
New Lion in backfield: During its run to the District 3-AAAA title game last season, Red Lion used a simple formula: A tandem of powerful, ball control offense and dominant defense. But both the Lions leading rushers from last season, Jeremy Knaub and Mike Gray, graduated this spring.
A concern? Not so much.
"I think the biggest surprise (this season) is going to be in the backfield, the running game and the improvements you see there," Lions coach Pat Conrad said.
More specifically, Conrad was referring to junior Jason Milton, who figures to receive a bulk of the handoffs for Red Lion this fall.
Milton is a bit of a departure from the power-running style of Knaub and Gray. He's more the big-play type, a speedster capable of popping an 80-yard run at any time. Conrad said Milton was clocked at 4.46 in the 40-yard dash recently.
As a sophomore last fall, Milton carried 35 times for 297 yards, good for an 8.5 yards per carry average. In an early-season game against Carlisle, Milton ran for 102 yards and a touchdown -- on three carries.
"We slipped him in there from time to time," Conrad said. "It seemed like every time we slipped him in he went for 60 yards here, 80 yards there.
"Mike and Jeremy, they ran hard and were just kind of workhorses. Jason kind of brings a new dimension. He can take it to the end zone on any given play."
More running back roulette: Speaking of tailbacks, there was certainly some question as to who would assume that job for Central York this season. The Panthers, a team with 17 returning starters and loads of skill position talent, struggled to run the ball last year behind an oft-overmatched offensive line.
On Thursday, Central coach Brad Livingston said the first-string tailback -- at least heading into camp -- will likely be junior Marquis Fells.
Fells split time between running back and slot receiver last year. His 327 rushing yards were second on the team, just 40 behind team leader Saladin Dickson (who Livingston said will likely line up as the first-team fullback).
Really, no Central player ran the ball very effectively last fall. The Panthers' 1,157 combined rushing yards were by far the fewest in Division I. Only three teams in the entire YAIAA -- Fairfield, Susquehannock and York Suburban -- had less success on the ground.
A big reason was the offensive line, a unit that Livingston needs to come together during the next few weeks. Central has a few bodies returning along its front five, but the coach still labeled that unit his "biggest question mark" heading into camp.
"We haven't seen a lot them this summer," Livingston said. "And we haven't seen a lot of them at the same time.
"You know how offensive lines are like cults? We didn't have that last year, and it showed at the end of the season. And we need to have it this year."
No QB questions: Meanwhile, Livingston snuffed out any embers of a quarterback controversy, naming Baker his starter.
After an impressive sophomore campaign, Baker scuffled in 2010. He completed just 44. 1 percent of his passes and threw more interceptions (9) than touchdowns (5). The Panthers issues up front certainly didn't help.
Meanwhile, fellow senior Corey Hartz was impressive in one relief appearance last fall, throwing three touchdowns and leading Central to an early-season win at Hempfield.
"I'm 100 percent sure it's Brandon's job," Livingston said. "I'm also 100 percent sure that Corey Hartz gives us a 1-2 punch that you don't often have. Does that mean we have a quarterback controversy? No, Brandon's the guy. But Corey's going to be involved in the offense, whether it's as a quarterback or whatever."
Livingston added Hartz will be relied upon to "quarterback" the defense. He's the team's starting free safety.
The new guy: You'd be hard-pressed to find a more enthusiastic, gung-ho coach than new Spring Grove head man Russ Stoner.
Already, his attitude seems to have struck a chord with his players.
Stoner said the Rockets have seen a 95 percent attendance rate at the team's offseason workouts. The coach added Spring Grove averaged somewhere between 45 and 50 players at each workout.
"We changed some cultures, and pretty much stimulated the whole community," Stoner said. "The boys have bought into it, the parents have bought in. We're excited to get started, see what happens next."
That's when the real questions will be asked. Spring Grove was decimated by graduation, and must replace all 22 of its starters from last season. Not exactly an easy task for the new coach.
None of which has dulled Stoner's confidence. "We plan on winning Division I," he said Thursday.
"I told them that from the first day I met them in the library," Stoner added. "None of us are doing this to come in second. We're going to take it one game at a time and we're going to try to win them all."
Coaching kinship: Livingston and Stoner may be on the opposite sides of a Division I rivalry these days, but that hasn't done anything to dampen their friendship.
In fact, Livingston had been a sounding board for Stoner, as he prepares for his first season at the Rockets helm. On Wednesday, Stoner spent two hours at Livingston's office at Central going over pass protections.
"He's still one of my best friends," Stoner said of his longtime mentor.
Felton focused: It's hard not to be impressed by South Western's Mike Felton, who I spoke to for a few minutes Thursday. Yes, the senior one of the YAIAA's most electric players last fall, and figures to be again this season. He was also very bright and forthcoming during our brief chat.
At one point, Mustangs coach Don Seidenstricker lauded Felton's practice habits, calling him one of the team's hardest workers. He also spoke of Felton's personal growth, saying his star was a "little bit individualistic" when he arrived as a freshman.
"That has changed," Seidenstricker said. "He's really become a very mature football player."
Felton, for his part, seemed to agree with his coach's assessment.
"Getting into high school and really seeing the vibe," Felton said. "There's a lot of athletes out there, not just me. It really opened my eyes a little bit. I can be good, but if I don't have all the people with me, I can't do anything. I can't do it all by myself. It takes all 11 people."
Felton is currently the YAIAA's lone Division I football commit from the Class of 2012, having verballed to Temple. (He will likely play safety for the Owls.) Felton said he was glad to get his recruiting saga out of the way before the season stated.
"Now I can focus on my senior season," Felton said. "There won't be so much hype about me, and 'Where's Mike going to go?' Now it can be about the team and South Western as a whole."
Field facelift: One of the area's most unique venues will look a bit different this season.
Red Lion's Horn Field is in the process of being converted from natural grass to artificial turf. Lions coach Pat Conrad said the laying of the turf began Thursday, and the process is expected to be completed by Monday, Aug. 29.
For those of you counting, that's four days before Red Lion's first home game, an opening-night date with Cumberland Valley. Here's hoping that timeline holds true.
Speaking of scheduling quirks, I'd be remiss not to touch on the plight of the Hanover Nighthawks. Thanks to the current renovation project being undertaken at Sheppard-Myers Field, Hanover will only play three home games this season. It's first two previously scheduled home contests, Week 2 against Littlestown and Week 4 against York Catholic, will be played away.
That means the Nighthawks first true home game won't come until Week 6, when Hanover hosts York County Tech on Oct. 7.
New digs: A couple teams will arrive opening night sporting different looks.
Central York, which seems to roll out a new helmet design every fall, has done so again. This year's edition has the same, matte black shell, except the orange "C" has been replaced by a glossy black "C". Very batman-esque. The design is pictured above.
West York, which for years has featured blue helmets with white numbers, now will use white helmets with blue numbers. Bulldogs coach Ron Miller called it the "Penn State look."
William Penn has traded in the "Bearcats" script on its orange helmets for a more old-school "Y" logo. (For York High.) Definitely a thumbs up.
But the coolest new helmets? That honor goes to New Oxford, which has traded in its red version with the New England Patriots logo for new, white helmets with a stylized "Ox" logo. Very, very sharp.
Don't forget to check out our annual football tab at the end of the month, for all the information you could possibly need to get ready for the YAIAA season.