Following an 0-5 start, the West York Bulldogs came on strong toward the end of last football season, winning four of their final five games and finishing second in Division II.
They could've been a playoff team had it not been for a few mistakes early in the year, when a young bunch was still learning. Seventeen starters from that team return to the high school gridiron this fall for the Bulldogs, a year wiser and looking to regain the top spot of the division.
The defending division champion Dover Eagles and league newcomer Gettysburg will likely challenge West York for the division crown. Meanwhile, three other teams (Susquehannock, Kennard-Dale and Eastern York) are under new leadership. And the Golden Knights and York Suburban will be moving up from Division III to Division II this season.
The 2014 high school football season gets started Friday, Aug. 29. To get you prepped for the upcoming action, this is the second of a three-part series this week previewing the football teams of the three divisions of the York-Adams League.
Here's a look at all seven teams in Division II.
Coach: Eric Lam (second year, 9-3, last year's Division II Coach of the Year).
Last year's record: 5-0 league (first place, Division II), 9-3 overall (District 3-AAA quarterfinals).
Key players lost to graduation: QB-DB Logan Ambrose, G-ILB Cameron Beckman, K Brendan Warren, DE Dan Bisking, DT Brian Lehman, DT Trey Flythe.
Key players returning: FB-ILB Isaiah Green, TE-OLB Malik Allen, T Levi Murphy, RB Dorran Ledbetter, G-P Tyler Jacobson, RB-DB Jake McLean, C Matt Farr.
Returning starters: 14.
Outlook: It's a story of good and bad for the defending Division II champs. The bad: Three defensive Division II All-Stars (Brian Lehman, Dan Bisking, Cameron Beckman) and Division II All-Star quarterback Logan Ambrose (355 yards passing, 550 yards rushing, 14 touchdowns last season) are gone to graduation. The good: there's plenty of talent back on both sides of the ball. The Eagles return a little more than half of their starting roster from a team that won nine games and reached the District 3-AAA quarterfinals last fall. Among the bunch coming back is fullback/inside linebacker Isaiah Green, tight end/outside linebacker Malik Allen, lineman Levi Murphy, running back Dorran Ledbetter, defensive back Jake McLean and lineman and punter Tyler Jacobson. Those six players were Division II All-Stars in 2013. Also returning with them is center Matt Farr, who earned a Division II honorable mention nod last fall as a sophomore.
Dover's offense was straight up potent last fall, finishing with the No. 2 scoring offense in the league (32.6 points a game) and top running game (6.7 yards a carry). Ambrose and his 550 rushing yards from the quarterback position will be tough to replicate, but he was fourth in line on the team in running the ball behind Green (1,161 rushing yards), Ledbetter (787 rushing yards) and McLean (682 rushing yards). Look for this ground attack to be the Eagles' bread and butter once again.
The Eagles were third in the league against the run and finished in the top third of the league in stopping the pass. And the core of that defense returns in defensive back McLean, linebackers Allen, Green and Ledbetter and linemen Jacobson and Murphy. If Lam can fill in the pieces around this group, Dover might again have one of the stronger defensive units in the league this fall.
Quote: Lam: "West York is always there. Coach (Ron) Miller does a great job with them down there. And Gettysburg coming in is a team to watch out for. I really think we're middle of the road. We'll have to fight to earn our way."
Schedule: 8/29 at Shippensburg, 9/05 at Big Spring, 9/12 vs. Red Land, 9/19 vs. Gettysburg, 9/26 at Eastern York, 10/03 vs. Kennard-Dale, 10/10 at Reading, 10/17 vs. York Suburban, 10/24 at West York, 10/31 vs. Susquehannock.
Eastern York Knights
Coach: Dave Kemmick (first year).
Last year's record: 5-4 league (fifth place, Division III), 5-5 overall.
Key players lost to graduation: FB Clayton Miller, TE-DE Christian Buser, OLB Jake Wildasin, CB Justin Keller, RB Thomas Taylor, C Elliot Royce.
Key players returning: T Garret Ishman, RB David Livelsberger, ILB Lucas Barshinger, RB-P Jake Kessler.
Returning starters: Six on offense, two on defense.
Outlook: First-year coach Dave Kemmick feels his squad has a chance at the playoffs this season. But it'll be an uphill battle for the Knights in that quest. First, Eastern brings back only eight starters (six on offense, two on defense) from last year's .500 squad. Second, the Knights will face stiffer competition by jumping up from Division III to Division II, returning to the level they competed in from 1976 to 2009.
On offense, Eastern will be anchored by tackle Garret Ishman, a 2013 All-Star selection. He'll plow the way for running back David Livelsberger, who gained a team-high 928 rushing yards last fall. Senior running back Jake Kessler (247 rushing yards, 111 receiving yards) will see plenty of action as well. This bodes well for an offense with a reputation of having one of the more solid running games in the league in recent years. Newcomers Ryan Kalke, a junior, and Conrad Rhein, a senior, are battling it out for the starting quarterback spot.
Eastern had the fifth-best passing defense in the York-Adams League last year while being middle of the pack against the run. So this year's defense, with nine new starters, has its work cut out to live up to this somewhat higher bar. Senior inside linebacker Lucas Barshinger will steer this unit. He earned a 2013 All-Star nod after totaling 84 solo tackles, two sacks, two recovered fumbles, one safety and two blocked punts.
Quote: Kemmick: "Any time I think we improve, that's a successful season. But I think the playoffs are very realistic."
Schedule: 8/29 at Columbia, 9/06 at York Tech, 9/12 vs. Hanover, 9/19 at West York, 9/26 vs. Dover, 10/03 at Gettysburg, 10/10 at Susquehannock, 10/17 vs. Kennard-Dale, 10/24 vs. Pine Grove, 10/31 vs. York Suburban.
Coach: Matt Heiser (third year, 9-12 record at Gettysburg, last year's Mid-Penn Conference Colonial Division Co-Coach of the Year).
Last year's record: 6-5 overall (District 3-AAA first round).
Key players lost to graduation: OL-DL Brent Crushong, QB Jesse Stouch, TE Tyler Clapsaddle, OL-DL Alex Neri, DB Ben Dudash.
Key players returning: OL-DL Giovani Alvarado, WR Tyler Lampe, RB-PR-KR Lane Sherman, P Kobe Wansel, LB Wade Laudeman.
Returning starters: Eight on offense, seven on defense.
Outlook: The Warriors finished second in the Mid-Penn Conference Colonial Division a year ago and went 6-5 overall, ending with a first-round loss in the District 3-AAA Tournament. Coming back from that team are 15 starters (eight offense, seven defense), including every skill position player on offense except for the quarterback. Watch out for wide receiver Tyler Lampe, a second-team Colonial Division All-Star selection a year ago who has Ivy League smarts. Lane Sherman, also a Colonial Division All-Star pick last fall, can do some damage from the running back spot and on kick and punt returns.
Quote: Heiser: "In the Mid-Penn I'm used to big, bruising offensive lineman. I see a lot of speed (in the York-Adams League). You still see a lot of size, too, but I think it's gonna be a little bit faster."
Schedule: 8/29 at South Western, 9/06 vs. New Oxford, 9/12 at Waynesboro, 9/19 at Dover, 9/26 vs. Susquehannock, 10/03 vs. Eastern York, 10/10 at Kennard-Dale, 10/17 vs. Conrad Weiser, 10/24 at York Suburban, 10/31 vs. West York.
Coach: Patrick Weider (first year).
Last year's record: 0-5 league (last place, Division II), 1-9 overall.
Key players lost to graduation: RB Mike Young, T-DT Jason Bellinger, G Matt Belt, ILB Albert Greaver, DB Logan Carlisle, FB Dallas Allen.
Key players returning: QB Kyle Amrhein, OL-DL Coleman Hamilton, OL-DL Dan Creter, RB-MLB Kendall Wales, RB-LB Josh Eaton, WR-DB Austin Jenkins.
Returning starters: Six on offense, three on defense.
Outlook: Patrick Weider is the new coach of the Rams. He follows Andy Loucks, who coached Kennard-Dale to a five-win season in 2010 but went just 3-27 the following three seasons and wasn't brought back after the 2013 campaign (1-9 overall). Weider served as Kennard-Dale's assistant coach last fall and before that spent seven seasons as assistant coach and offensive coordinator at York High. He takes over a roster featuring nine returning starters (six on offense, three on defense).
Austin Jenkins is back at wideout after hauling in a team-high 262 receiving yards on 12 catches last season. Senior Kyle Amrhien (598 passing yards) will be back under center, too. However, the Rams will have to replace their top three rushers from a year ago: Mike Young (1,154 yards, 10 touchdowns) fullback Dallas Allen (362 rushing yards) and Justin Fitchett (275 rushing yards). Fortunately for KD, the cupboard's not completely bare in this department. Kendall Wales (33 carries, 104 rushing yards) and Josh Eaton (23 carries, 98 rushing yards) gained some varsity experience out of the backfield last fall. Plus, returning offensive linemen Coleman Hamilton and Dan Creter should be able to open up some holes.
Jenkins (cornerback), Wales (linebacker), Eaton (linebacker) and Hamilton will likely play both ways as well. They make up the few starters back on the defensive side for a unit that was one of the better teams against the run last fall but near last against the pass.
Quote: Creter: "I think we have a lot of work to do to begin with. And I think the group of guys that we have are willing to put in the work that is necessary to get us there."
Schedule: 8/29 vs. Waynesboro, 9/05 at Hanover, 9/12 vs. York Tech, 9/19 at York Suburban, 9/26 vs. West York, 10/03 at Dover, 10/10 vs. Gettysburg, 10/17 at Eastern York, 10/24 at Susquehannock, 10/31 vs. Millersburg.
West York Bulldogs
Coach: Ron Miller (ninth year, 76-23 record).
Last year's record: 4-1 league (second place Division II), 4-6 overall.
Key players lost to graduation: T Alex Raffensberger, DE Kyle Narber, DB Isaiah Toomey, DB Justin Warfel, RB Josiah Mincer.
Key players returning: WR Ian Lichty, C Logan Stover, OG-DL Nick Kniery, QB Ross Campbell, WR-FS Terry Cains, K Darian McCauley, OLB Noah Townsley, RB Noah Bowers, WR-CB Diego Torres.
Returning starters: Eight on offense, nine on defense.
Outlook: The traditionally strong West York program ran all the way to the District 3-AAA title game in 2012. Then the Bulldogs graduated just about everyone. As a result, Coach Ron Miller had a young group on the field last fall. And the inexperience showed early when West York began the year 0-5. The Bulldogs clicked at the season's midpoint, though, and they finished out the year by winning four of their last five games to nab second place in Division II. Had it not been for a few mistakes early in the year against Spring Grove (a 10-6 loss) and Red Lion (a 14-7 loss) in Weeks 3 and 4, West York could've been a playoff team. Now, the Bulldogs have 17 starters back from that squad, leading most to feel West York will regain the throne atop Division II this season.
The Bulldogs were No. 20 in the league in running the ball and No. 12 in passing. So there's room for improvement on the offensive end. And there's reason to believe this side gets better. Four of West York's top five rushers return, along with a pair of road-grading All-Star linemen in center Logan Stover and guard Nick Kniery. Ross Campbell (1,070 passing yards) is back under center with All-Star wideouts Ian Lichty (282 receiving yards) and Terry Cains (260 receiving yards) at his disposal.
Darian McCauley earned an All-Star nod as West York's kicker a season ago. So with him back, the Bulldogs should be strong in special teams.
Really the only question mark for this West York bunch is in the defensive secondary. West York ranked No. 6 in the league against the pass last fall. But All-Star defensive backs Isaiah Toomey and Justin Warfel have graduated. The Bulldogs were No. 11 in the league against the run last season, and with nine starters returning, should only be better in that department. If West York can fill the shoes of Toomey and Warfel, the Bulldogs could have one of the best defensive units in the league this fall.
Quote: Miller: "Dover is the defending champ and they have a lot of skill back. I don't know much about Gettysburg but I anticipate they'll have a good team. New coaches at Susquehannock and KD. Right now, until somebody proves otherwise, it's Dover."
Schedule: 8/29 at Central York, 9/05 vs. Dallastown, 9/12 at Red Lion, 9/19 vs. Eastern York, 9/26 at Kennard-Dale, 10/03 vs. Pius X, 10/10 at York Suburban, 10/17 vs. Susquehannock, 10/24 vs. Dover, 10/31 at Gettysburg.
York Suburban Trojans
Coach: Jeremy Jones (second season, 5-5).
Last year's record: 5-4 league (sixth place, Division III), 5-5 overall.
Key players lost to graduation: WR-DB Emmanuel McDowell, G Matt Kauffman, DE Ch'aim Smith, ILB Steve Salcedo, CB Jason Olsen, P Kyle Bulgarelli.
Key players returning: QB Thomas Merkle, OLB Sawyer Robinson.
Returning starters: Eight on offense, five on defense.
Outlook: Welcome back, York Suburban. Following four seasons down in Division III, where the Trojans went a combined 19-21, Suburban this year returns to Division II. The last time the Trojans were at this level, they won four league games and finished 7-4 overall back in 2009. As a matter of fact, Suburban placed in the top-half of the Division II standings seven out of eight times from 2002 to 2009. Plus, this is familiar ground for second-year coach Jeremy Jones. Before coming to Suburban in 2013, Jones spent the previous 10 seasons at West York, where he was the offensive coordinator from 2008 to 2012.
Junior Thomas Merkle returns at quarterback after tossing 1,367 passing yards last fall, contributing to the sixth-best passing offense in the league. He'll have a pair of receivers to throw to in senior Jimmy Daglaris (12 receptions for 299 yards) and junior Collin Mailman (13 receptions for 196 yards), both of whom will have to step up to replace graduated wideouts Emmanuel McDowell (34 receptions for 584 yards) and Steve Salcedo (27 receptions for 346 yards). Overall, the Trojans return eight starters on offense. The biggest concern on this side of the ball is the running game, which finished dead last in the league a year ago. Leading rusher Ch'aim Smith (89 carries for 405 rushing yards) graduated. And second-year coach Jeremy Jones thinks his line is a bit undersized.
Suburban will have six new starters on defense. They'll have to live up to a defensive unit that was one of the best in the league a year ago. Outside linebacker Sawyer Robinson (58 tackles, 2.5 sacks) will spearhead this group.
Quote: Jones: "Our team speed is key. We're not very big. We have a kid that transferred from Dallastown. He's an O-lineman. He's big, like 300 pounds. But the rest of the line, I weigh more than them and I weigh 215, so that's not a great sign. So we're going to have to use our speed to get the sidelines. If we're not, we're in trouble."
Schedule: 8/29 at Red Land, 9/05 vs. Northeastern, 9/12 at Spring Grove, 9/19 vs. Kennard-Dale, 9/26 at Ephrata, 10/03 at Susquehannock, 10/10 vs. West York, 10/17 at Dover, 10/24 vs. Gettysburg, 10/31 at Eastern York.
Coach: J.C. Lewis (first season).
Last year's record: 2-3 league (fourth Division II), 3-7 overall.
Key players lost to graduation: TE-ILB Luke Knott, RB-DB Sammy Miller, WR Steven Nalls, C Adam Dell, OT-DT Logan Foore, QB-OLB Bryan Kerr, P Colin Rennoll.
Key players returning: OL-DL Nick DeLuca, RB-OLB Tucker Devilbiss, DE-OT Rulbeing Quiles.
Returning starters: Four on offense, four on defense.
Outlook: Susquehannock's three wins last fall were the most for the program since 2007 (6-4). So it was a small step in the right direction for a team that has been at or near the cellar the last half-dozen years. J.C. Lewis will look to keep the program on this path as he steps in as the Warriors' new head coach. He'll have only four starters back on offense and defense.
Gone from last year's three-win team were six players who earned All-Star nods at season's end: tight end Luke Knott, running back/defensive back Sammy Miller, wide receiver Steven Nalls, center Adam Dell, offensive/defensive tackle Logan Foore and outside linebacker Bryan Kerr (who also played quarterback).
However, Lewis said he has a roster of 60 players, which is more than years past and should create some competition for playing time, especially considering there's a total of 14 starting spots up for grabs. One of them is at quarterback, where it's a three-horse race between Collin Kelly, Jose Stoneberg and Chase Summers. Kelly (11 passes for 96 yards) and Stoneberg (11 passes for 75 yards) saw brief action last fall, while Summers is new to the fray. Whether or not all of this competition between players translates when facing opponents is a different conversation.
Quote: DeLuca: "There is a fresh energy about the team. After having Coach Kerr for three years and then bringing in Coach Lewis, there's something fresh about the season that I think is going to help change the program."
Schedule: 8/29 at Northern York, 9/05 vs. York Catholic, 9/12 vs. Northeastern, 9/19 vs. Exeter Township, 9/26 at Gettysburg, 10/03 vs. York Suburban, 10/10 vs. Eastern York, 10/17 at West York, 10/24 vs. Kennard-Dale, 10/31 at Dover.
Prediction: West York hosts Dover in Week 9 and travels to Gettysburg on Halloween night in Week 10. Those final weeks will decide the winner of Division II. Go with West York. The Bulldogs came on strong toward the end of last season and could've been a playoff team had it not been for a few mistakes early in the year. They return nearly their entire starting roster and should get back to reigning supreme in this division. York Suburban will nab fourth place. It's a coin flip between Eastern, Kennard-Dale and Susquehannock for the last three spots in the division standings.
— Ryan Vandersloot contributed to this report. Reach John Walk at email@example.com.