The kickoff to the 2014 high school football season is less than two weeks away.
To get you prepped for the upcoming gridiron action, The York Dispatch will run previews of all three divisions of the York-Adams League this week, and next week will provide a rundown of the top 10 games and players to watch out for this season, in addition to previews of all of the Week 1 games.
Up first is a preview of Division I, where there are plenty of contenders and no clear-cut favorites. The defending division champion Central York Panthers will have to replace nearly their entire starting roster from a year ago, while Dallastown, Red Lion, Spring Grove and South Western lost just about every offensive playmaker to graduation.
As a result, York High could sneak into contention with 2013 Division I Player of the Year, James Way, returning at quarterback alongside 13 other returning starters. In addition, coaching guru George Chaump will take over as the Bearcats' offensive coordinator.
New Oxford and Northeastern, meanwhile, will see if they can hold their own in jumping up from Division II to Division I.
Here's a look at all eight Division I teams:
Central York Panthers
Coach: Brad Livingston (32nd season, 203-141-4 record, last year's Division I Co-Coach of Year).
Last year's record: 5-0 league (first place, Division I), 8-3 overall (District 3-AAAA appearance).
Returning starters: Five on offense; three on defense.
Key players lost to graduation: QB Dylan Hose, RB Breaun Randle, WR Zach Emswiler, WR Zane Knaub, WR Max Haldeman, ILB Collin George.
Key players returning: OG Nate Stephens (Sr.), OG Zane Santos (Jr.), WR-OLB Jeremiah Dadeboe (Sr.), TE Robert Romey III (Sr.), FB-DT Pearson Hinkle (Sr.), OLB Elzir Stroman (Jr.).
Returning starters: Five on offense, three on defense
Outlook: Livingston's squad has speed, is strong in the kicking game and has plenty of depth on the roster, although it is weak in experience. This will be a new look for a team that had the fourth-best scoring offense last season. However, three linemen, the top-three receivers, quarterback Dylan Hose (1,459 passing yards, 16 touchdown passes, 671 rushing yards) and running back Breaun Randle (1,290 rushing yards, 12 touchdowns) are gone to graduation. Look for senior tight end Robert Romey (10 receptions for 93 yards) to be one of Central's top weapons this season. It's the same story on the defensive side, where only three starters are back.
Quote: Livingston: "You need to still be standing the last two weeks of the season. And if you're still on your feet and in contention you might be able to win a title in those last two weeks."
Schedule: 8/29 vs. West York, 9/05 vs. Cumberland Valley, 9/12 vs. Hempfield, 9/19 at Northeastern, 9/26 vs. South Western, 10/03 at New Oxford, 10/10 at Spring Grove, 10/17 vs. Red Lion, 10/24 at Dallastown, 10/31 vs. York High
Head coach: Kevin Myers (10th season, 50-50 record, last year's Division I Co-Coach of Year).
Last year's record: 4-1 league (second place, Division I), 10-3 overall (District 3-AAAA semifinals).
Key players lost to graduation: QB Andrew Henry, RB Robert Catchings, WR Malik Lewis.
Key players returning: FB-DE Dezmond Jones, TE-DB Owen Ritter, WR-LB Addison Quinones, C-DT Justin Tindall, OL-DT Zaire Willis.
Returning starters: Myers: "Six to seven on offense and defense."
Outlook: The Wildcats (4-1 Division I, 10-3 last season) finished as runner-up to Central in Division I last season, but competed in the District 3-AAAA playoffs for seventh-straight season and made school history by reaching the district semifinals. Now in his 10th year at the helm, Wildcats' head coach Kevin Myers returns six to seven starters on each side of the ball, but will have to replace playmakers Andrew Henry (1,408 yards passing last season), Robert Catchings (1,452 rushing yards) and Malik Lewis (834 yards receiving). Myers said at media day that junior Cade Gold is the front-runner to take over at quarterback while the running game will be by committee, and juniors Jake Jansen and Kiwane Tarbert will get shots at starting gigs as wideouts. Senior Addison Quinones will play a large role for this squad. He's the most experienced receiver returning after pulling down 10 catches for 125 yards at wide receiver on offense. He'll also lead the defense at linebacker behind towering tackles Justin Tindull and Zaire Willis, both seniors.
Quote: Myers: "Coming off a District 3 final, what are we gonna do with that? Is this gonna be an anomaly or is that something we're gonna try to attain every year?"
Schedule: 8/29 vs. Lancaster Catholic, 9/05 at West York, 9/12 vs. Penn Manor, 9/19 at Spring Grove, 9/26 vs. York High, 10/03 at Northeastern, 10/10 vs. South Western, 10/17 at New Oxford, 10/24 vs. Central York, 10/31 at Red Lion.
New Oxford Colonials:
Head coach: Jason Thurston (third year, 10-11 record).
Last year's record: 3-2 league (third place Division II), 6-5 overall (District 3-AAA appearance).
Key players lost to graduation: RB-DB Wes Beans, RB Aaron Zinneman, DE Marc O'Brien, DT Charlie Hoffman.
Key players returning: K Trey Parrish, OG-DE Max Lippy, FB-SS Hunter Ringrose.
Returning starters: Six on offense, six on defense.
Outlook: Jumping up from Division II to Division I this season, third-year coach Jason Thurston will have 12 returning starters (six offense, six defense), but lost to graduation are running back Wes Beans, who earned Division II Player of the Year honors last season after gouging out 1,408 rushing yards, and running back Aaron Zinneman (702 rushing yards). The duo made the Colonials the third-best rushing team in the league last year. However, New Oxford should stay strong in the running game with the entire starting five back on offensive line. That should also provide some stability for 6-foot-3 senior Jordan Gardner, a pocket quarterback who is stepping in for Anthony Lippy (881 passing yards) as the Colonials' signal-caller. There is a chance the speedier Cordin Czap will see some time from behind center as well.
On the defensive side, New Oxford is faced with the task of replacing Beans, who tallied 113 tackles and two interceptions at defensive back, in addition to defensive end Marc O'Brien (53 tackles, three sacks, one recovered fumble) and defensive tackle Charlie Hoffman (62 tackles, 1.5 sacks, one recovered fumble). All three were Division II All-Stars last season and contributed to a unit that was the fourth-best in the league against the pass.
The Colonials' schedule isn't forgiving, either. New Oxford faces one of the York-Adams League's best squads from Division III (Bermudian Springs on Aug. 29) and Division II (Gettysburg on Sept. 5) in the opening two weeks, plays three of their first four games on the road and starts Division I competition against South Western, Spring Grove and Central York.
Quote: Gardner: "It's going to be a challenge with tougher teams. But it's an opportunity to show that New Oxford isn't some little push-around type of school. We think we're a big deal."
Schedule: 8/29 vs. Bermudian Springs, 9/05 at Gettysburg, 9/12 at Biglerville, 9/19 at South Western, 9/26 vs. Spring Grove, 10/03 vs. Central York, 10/11 at Red Lion, 10/17 vs. Dallastown, 10/24 at York High, 10/31 vs. Northeastern.
Head coach: Jon Scepanski (second year, 1-9 record).
Last year's record: 1-4 league (fifth place Division II), 1-9 overall.
Key players lost to graduation: WR Jowan Lewis-Kearse.
Key players returning: QB Marcus Josey, RB Chris Whack, ILB-RB Kody Reeser, OL-DL Peyton Wolgamuth.
Returning starters: 17.
Outlook: The journey this Bobcats program has taken since first forming a football team six years ago has been an interesting one. Brendan Brown coached the Bobcats since the inception, taking them through three losing seasons before going 6-5 in 2011 and 7-4 in 2012. Brown then stepped down and offensive coordinator Jon Scepanski stepped in as the new head man, only to see Northeastern took a step back in 2013 with a 1-9 overall mark and 1-4 record in league play. But those Bobcats were young, and they still nearly won half their games considering four of the losses were by six points or less. Now Scepanski will have 17 returning starters as Northeastern steps up into Division I competition. He'll be employing new schemes on both sides of the ball, too. On offense, Northeastern is going to a spread wing-T attack, likely to take advantage of the team's top-four rushers from last season returning, including junior quarterback Marcus Josey (1,246 passing yards, 258 rushing yards).
Northeastern had one of the worst defensive units in the league last fall (16th against the pass, 18th against the run). Again, this could be attributed to a young team. But Scepanski, who was once a defensive coordinator at Conestoga Valley, has decided to switch to a 3-5-3 scheme. Junior Kody Reeser, an inside linebacker who earned a Division II All-Star nod last season by totaling 96 tackles, 1.5 sacks and two interceptions, should be the ringleader here. Peyton Wolgamuth will spearhead the defensive line.
Quote: Scepanski: "We didn't graduate many players and definitely not a lot of starters. So this year, everybody has that experience and they now understand what it takes to win games. They understand the level of competition they're going to be playing against. Their expectations are higher, and mine are too. They've been putting in the dedication it takes to win."
Schedule: 8/29 vs. York Catholic, 9/05 at York Suburban, 9/12 at Susquehannock, 9/19 vs. Central York, 9/26 at Red Lion, 10/03 vs. Dallastown, 10/10 at York High, 10/17 vs. Spring Grove, 10/24 vs. South Western, 10/31 at New Oxford
Red Lion Lions:
Head coach: Jesse Shay (second year, 4-6 record).
Last year's record: 2-3 league (fourth place Division I), 4-6 overall.
Key players lost to graduation: QB Blake Cahill, WR Chris Knorr, WR Damien Hess.
Key players returning: RB Kenny Holloway, C-DT Sam Lowe.
Returning starters: Four on offense, eight on defense.
Outlook: Coach Jesse Shay said he prefers running over passing. But in his first year steering the Red Lion program last season, he instead took advantage of the weapons at his disposal and let quarterback Blake Cahill (1,580 passing yards) do his thing. So now that Cahill and last year's top four receivers are gone to graduation, Shay said this year's offense will have a "ground-it-out, four-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust" approach. Expect senior running back Kenny Holloway (505 rushing yards last season) to get plenty of touches. Although this Red Lion team is laden with seniors, Holloway and three offensive linemen are the only returning starters on the offensive side.
The defense will be anchored by senior defensive end Sam Lowe, who is one of eight returning starters on that side. Lowe's 73 tackles, six sacks and three recovered fumbles a year ago earned him Division I All-Star honors.
Quote: Shay: "I think South Western will be much improved. Central is Central. I don't think they rebuild. I think they just reload. The same with Dallastown. I think they'll be strong. And you have the program Russ (Stoner) has over at Spring Grove. I'm excited to see New Oxford, who was a playoff team last year. And a big school like Northeastern coming over and joining us. Then you have George Chaump coaching over at York High. Where do I see us fitting in? I don't have the slightest clue. I really don't. And I'm not just being a politician. I don't know."
Schedule: 8/29 vs. Hershey, 9/05 at Manheim Township, 9/12 vs. West York, 9/19 at York High, 9/26 vs. Northeastern, 10/3 at South Western, 10/11 vs. New Oxford, 10/17 at Central York, 10/24 at Spring Grove, 10/31 vs. Dallastown.
Spring Grove Rockets:
Head coach: Russ Stoner (fourth year, 15-18 record).
Last year's record: 2-3 league (third place Division I), 6-5 overall (District 3-AAA appearance).
Key players lost to graduation: QB Seth Hildebrand, RB Jeff Delaughter, WR Logan Hall, G Tyler Amspacher, DL David Shaw, DT DeAndre Gaskins, DE Kyle Micik.
Key players returning: ILB Zack Stauffer, OLB Nick Erickson, DB Ian Slaven, G Andrew Lawson, K Andrew Luckenbaugh.
Returning starters: Seven on offense, seven on defense.
Outlook: Yes. Spring Grove has nearly everyone back on offense and defense. But the few holes fourth-year Rockets' coach Russ Stoner has to fill are gaping ones. Running back Jeff Delaughter has finally graduated, taking with him a program-record 3,477 career rushing yards. Ditto for the 1-2 combo of quarterback Seth Hildebrand (1,622 passing yards, 468 rushing yards) and receiver Logan Hall (56 receptions for 937 yards, 10 touchdowns). On the defensive side, lineman David Shaw is now playing at the University of Maryland. Fellow defensive linemen DeAndre Gaskins and Kyle Micik, both All-Star selections last fall, are also gone.
Offensively, Stoner feels confident Spring Grove will be fine at quarterback, considering he's had two different signal-callers throw for more than 1,500 yards in each of the last two years, so his expectation is to find the next man up. The biggest question mark on this side of the ball will obviously be how the Rockets attempt to fill the mighty cleats of Delaughter.
Defensively, although the line is pretty much starting from scratch, Spring Grove does return a flurry of other talents. The linebacking corps will be extremely active with 2013 All-Star selections Zack Stauffer (140 tackles, three interceptions, four sacks, two recovered fumbles) and Nick Erickson (77 tackles, three sacks) staying busy. Behind them is another returning All-Star in defensive back Ian Slaven (65 tackles, three sacks, one recovered fumble).
Quote: Stoner: "The expectation is we're gonna be a tough out. The expectation is that when your number is called you're gonna work. That's what we pretty much try to instill now at Spring Grove."
Schedule: 8/29 at Cumberland Valley, 9/05 vs. Mechanicsburg, 9/12 vs. York Suburban, 9/19 vs. Dallastown, 9/26 at New Oxford, 10/03 at York High, 10/10 vs. Central York, 10/17 at Northeastern, 10/24 vs. Red Lion, 10/31 at South Western.
South Western Mustangs:
Head coach: Damian Poalucci (third year, 9-12 record).
Last year's record: 1-4 league (fifth place Division I), 3-7 overall.
Key players lost to graduation: TE-DB Logan Bowman, QB Tyler Sterner, RB Dillon Thomas, RB Camden Brown, ILB Gunner Holtz, DB Ryan Lane.
Key players returning: DT-OT Matt Helwig, QB-FS Brock Geiman, QB-OLB Ryan Krebs, FB-LB Jonas Walter, WR-CB Hunter Palmer, WR-CB Brady Thayer, WR Noah Staub.
Returning starters: Six on offense, seven on defense.
Outlook: Never again will this happen to the Mustangs. At least that's the mantra coming out of the South Western camp this fall following last year's disastrous season on a team decimated by injuries (18 total, four season-ending). Somehow, though, the Mustangs still managed to win three games and come within a touchdown or less in four of their seven losses. They lost most of their offensive skill positions to graduation, but there are decent pieces returning. Brock Geiman completed 7 of 16 passes for 165 yards in brief action behind center a year ago, so he has somewhat of a handle on the offense. He'll have options to throw to in returning receivers Noah Staub (13 receptions for 243 yards), Brady Thayer (11 receptions for 226 yards) and Hunter Palmer (seven receptions for 150 yards). The ground attack, meanwhile, is another story considering running backs Dillon Thomas (490 rushing yards) and Camden Brown (368 rushing yards) have graduated.
South Western was in the top-third in the league when it came to stopping the run last fall, while its passing defense was middle of the pack. A lot of Division I coaches feel the Mustangs will be much improved this season, and seven returning starters on defense bodes well to support that notion. Now if South Western can just stay healthy...
Quote: Poalucci: "One of our themes throughout the offseason was 'Never again'. Never again to have that type of season and never again to a lot of things, like a 3-7 record — 3-7 is not what I think was representative of what we were, but that's what we were."
Schedule: 8/29 vs. Gettysburg, 9/05 at Cedar Cliff, 9/12 at Carlisle, 9/19 vs. New Oxford, 9/26 at Central York, 10/03 vs. Red Lion, 10/10 at Dallastown, 10/17 vs. York High, 10/24 at Northeastern, 10/31 vs. Spring Grove.
York High Bearcats:
Head coach: Shawn Heinold (third year, 9-11 record).
Last year's record: 1-4 league (sixth place Division I), 4-6 overall.
Key players lost to graduation: WR Da'keem Dennison.
Key players returning: QB James Way, WR-DB Bryshon Sweeney, ILB Lasmir Mitchell.
Returning starters: Eight on offense, six on defense.
Outlook: Although the Bearcats went 4-6 last season and only won one game in the division, everyone is expecting them to do big things this season. Why? First, they return 14 starters. Second, one of them is 2013 Division I Player of the Year James Way. And third, third-year Bearcats' head coach Shawn Heinold has added George Chaump to his staff. Chaump will be York High's new offensive coordinator this fall. Oh, and Way told The York Dispatch last year, when chatting about his Player of the Year accolade, he and his teammates want to win the division crown this season.
The Bearcats certainly have all the makings to do so. Way threw for a league-best 1,671 passing yards and added another 1,024 yards on the ground a year ago. Way won't be alone, either. In his arsenal, Way will be able to hand off to running back Bryshon Sweeney (487 rushing yards) or throw to Sweeney (19 receptions for 225 yards) or Sae-quan Whitaker (15 receptions for 225 yards). That receiving duo should be able to fill the shoes of graduated receiver Da'keem Dennison (40 receptions, 636 yards). Heinold also stressed he's working on improving the play of his offensive line. Then you factor in Chaump, who has more than 50 years of coaching experience in college (Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Ohio State, Marshall and Navy) and high school (Central Dauphin, Harrisburg, Central Dauphin East). And it gets scary to think about what this York High offense might be able to do on gridiron this fall.
The strength of the offense will have to outweigh a questionable defense. The Bearcats return six starters from a unit that had trouble stopping the ball on the ground or through the air last fall. Look for inside linebacker Lasmir Mitchell, a second-team All-Star selection in 2013, to anchor this defense. Another concern of Heinold's is depth, so health will play a factor on both sides down the stretch.
Quote: Way on Chaump: "He's teaching us a lot of new things. He's also teaching us why, if we did something wrong, why it was wrong. He's helping us read coverages and how to break down film. So, yeah, I think it's a pretty good experience."
Schedule: 8/29 at Reading, 9/05 vs. J.P. McCaskey, 9/13 at Harrisburg, 9/19 vs. Red Lion, 9/26 at Dallastown, 10/03 vs. Spring Grove, 10/10 vs. Northeastern, 10/17 at South Western, 10/24 vs. New Oxford, 10/31 at Central York.
Predicted finish of Division I
It seems to happen every year.
Central York finishes at or near the top of the division, graduates a ton of seniors and reloads the following year. The Panthers will do so again this fall, with York High following in a close second place. The Bearcats have much room for improvement since they only won a game in league competition a year ago. Plus, they won't be sneaking up on anyone, considering most everyone knows how dangerous York High might be. The Bearcats travel to Central York in Week 10, so the division could be decided then.
The next three spots in the division are pretty much a coin flip between Dallastown, South Western and Northeastern. Both the Wildcats and Mustangs return about half their starting lineups, the concern here being the loss of talented skill players. And the Bobcats bring back the most starters of any team in the division, including their quarterback. But they only won one game last year. And they were in Division II then. So Northeastern must prove its worth on the field. Like Stoner said, Spring Grove will give every team a battle. But its tough to see the Rockets winning a lot of games considering the level of talent they lost. New Oxford and Red Lion round out the division, with the added caveat of Red Lion having the ability to pull out a couple surprises along the way.
— Ryan Vandersloot contributed to this report. Reach John Walk at email@example.com.