Derrick Stahl smiles when he's asked about the strides he's made since first putting on a helmet and pads for Northeastern's varsity football team.
"Compared to sophomore year, you couldn't even begin to tell it was me out there now except for the uniform number (53) being the same," the Bobcats' senior offensive/defensive lineman said on Wednesday afternoon at practice. "Sophomore year, no sacks at all. Junior year, two sacks, and this year, I already have three sacks. I think as a player I've gotten a lot better, on defense and offense."
Northeastern head coach Brendan Brown watched Stahl mature from a raw sophomore with a load of potential to a polished senior who is fulfilling the promise.
"In his sophomore and junior years, he jumped offside 15 times," Brown said. "Now, on the field, he's under control. Pound for pound, I haven't coached a tougher kid. He's a coach's dream come true."
Stahl isn't huge (5-11, 210), but he's extremely strong. He squatted 500 pounds and bench pressed 340 in the weight room. Along with blocking, tackling and lifting, Stahl encourages the younger players to play a role even if they're not in the game.
"If I'm not in the game, for whatever reason, special teams or whatever, I'll try to get the guys on the sideline to talk it up. I try to get them hyper," he said. "They can call out pass or run when we're on defense."
And about that jumping offside habit?
"I hardly ever jump offside (anymore)," he said. "Maybe a couple of times at practice."
Stahl is savoring every minute of his final high school season.
"Other years, once in a while during the week, I would be thinking that I don't feel like practicing," he said. "But this year, I feel ready to come to practice every day. I'm looking into playing in college, but if it doesn't happen, I had fun playing football in high school."
Stiff challenge: Stahl and his teammates are preparing this week for a stiff challenge: a Friday night game at Shippensburg. Both teams will enter the non-league contest with 2-0 records.
Shippensburg pulled out a 14-12 victory in last year's meeting in Manchester. The Greyhounds went on to earn their first District 3 playoff victory. Eight starters are back on offense from the 2011 team.
"We respect them," Brown said. "But we definitely feel we can play with them. They're an established power, so this is a playoff game for us."
Shippensburg counts on its Wing-T running game, which features Ty Kater, Tony Johnson and William Burt. The trio has combined for 337 rushing yards in victories over Central Dauphin East (21-20) and Camp Hill (41-14).
Daniel Adams leads Northeastern's ground game with 328 yards. The 6-0, 180-pound senior is averaging an impressive 6.3 yards a carry.
"Here's a kid (Adams) who came here the day before two-a-days started (last year) and never lifted a weight in his life," Brown said. "He put on 15 pounds and ended up getting in the game for us at cornerback and running back. We were very excited to get him on the field."
Adams gave a preview of what was to come this year by averaging 9.1 yards a carry in just 22 carries as a junior. He's the main ballcarrier this year. Jordan Kearse, a junior, has complemented Adams with 22 carries for 134 yards (6.1 average).
The Bobcats aren't lowering their expectations despite losing nine York-Adams Division II all-stars (first team and second team) to graduation.
"These guys have a swagger to them," Brown said. "Those seniors last year had quality backups to go against in practice. By the time we played West York for the second time (in the District 3 Class AAA playoffs), those guys (the backups) were playing."
-- Reach Dick Vanolin da at dvanolinda@york dispatch.com.