There are plenty of options this fall when analyzing who could come out on top in the race for the York-Adams League Division III football crown.
Littlestown and Bermudian Springs, last year's top two teams, have plenty of holes to fill after losing a ton of talent to graduation.
That leaves the door open for Biglerville (17 returning starters), Delone Catholic (15 returning starters) and Fairfield (12 returning starters from a six-win team).
York Catholic could very well be in the mix, too. Following a pair of four-win seasons in 2011 and 2012, the Irish had their best season under Head Coach Eric Depew in 2013, placing third in the division standings and making it all the way to the District 3-A title game to finish with an 8-4 overall record, the program's most wins since 2002 (9-3).
York Catholic returns about half its starters this season. And those coming back are mighty talented, especially senior quarterback Hakeem Kinard, who earned a Division III All-Star nod a year ago after collecting 1,203 rushing yards, 1,688 passing yards and 33 total touchdowns. Where the Irish have questions are on defense, where they lost to graduation their entire defensive line, an All-Star linebacker and an honorable mention cornerback. If those questions are addressed, though, York Catholic could be in line to win the division title, a feat the Irish last achieved in 1992.
Here's a look at all eight teams in Division III.
Bermudian Springs Eagles
Coach: Jon DeFoe (16th season, 106-56 record).
Last year's record: 8-1 league (second place Division III), 10-2 overall (District 3-AA semifinals).
Key players lost to graduation: TE-OLB-P Austin Hartzell, QB Ted Marines, OG-ILB Grant Mauro, WR-OLB Alex Orwig, DE-K Aaron Rebert.
Key players returning: FB Colton Dull, OT-DT Noah Hakes, RB Briton Shelton, CB Wyatt Gearhart, WR Ryan Markle.
Returning starters: Six on offense, five on defense.
Outlook: The only sure bet for this ball club is the running game should be good to go with senior fullback Colton Dull (1,107 rushing yards, 14 touchdowns) and senior running backs Briton Shelton (585 rushing yards) and Ryan Markle (547 rushing yards) all returning on a unit that amassed 2,890 yards on the ground last fall.
The rest will be a work in progress. Sure, Markle hauled in 378 receiving yards last year, too. But the Eagles will need a new quarterback to replace the departed Ted Marines (1,332 passing yards). They'll also have to somehow find replacements for wideout Alex Orwig (408 receiving yards) and the do-it-all Austin Hartzell, who was solid at tight end (11 receptions for 239 yards), outside linebacker (68 tackles, one sack, one recovered fumble) and punter (35.0 average on 28 punts).
All-Star defensive tackle Noah Hakes (55 tackles, 3.5 sacks, one recovered fumble) and cornerback Wyatt Gearhart (48 tackles, three interceptions, one recovered fumble) will be back to anchor a defense that will have six new starters in the daunting attempt for this unit to live up to being the best defense in the league for the third year in a row. The kicking game might also be suspect considering All-Star punter Hartzell and All-Star kicker Aaron Rebert have graduated. Looks like plenty of work for 16th-year coach Jon DeFoe this fall.
Quote: DeFoe: "Well, we think we're gonna be right there every year. We certainly expect to be one of those teams."
Schedule: 8/29 at New Oxford, 9/05 vs. Boiling Springs, 9/12 vs. Shippensburg, 9/19 at Hanover, 9/26 vs. Fairfield, 10/04 at York Tech, 10/10 vs. Delone Catholic, 10/17 at York Catholic, 10/24 vs. Littlestown, 10/31 at Biglerville.
Coach: Alex Ramos (fifth year, 20-22 record).
Last year's record: 0-9 league (last place Division III), 1-9 overall.
Key players lost to graduation: FB-DT Joe Hurda.
Key players returning: K Jorden Trostel, OL-DL Nate Mentzer, QB Mason Unger, QB Ben Hurda, WR/DB Gage McAuliffe, RB-DB Scott Cooper, RB-DB Sam Laird.
Returning starters: Eight on offense, nine on defense.
Outlook: In the four years he's been at Biglerville, Coach Alex Ramos fielded his youngest roster in 2013. This led to a down 1-9 campaign last fall following an impressive 9-3 season in 2012. The Canners, however, have 17 starters returning this season, the most of any team in Division III. Still, they'll have to take a large step forward considering all nine losses a year ago were not close except for one (a 44-37 loss against York Catholic in Week 8). Plus, All-Star fullback Joe Hurda has graduated, taking his 939 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns with him.
As a result, senior Sam Laird (265 rushing yards on 45 carries last season) and senior Scott Cooper (235 rushing yards on 44 carries) will see a lot more touches this fall out of the backfield. Junior Ben Hurda (135 passing yards) and senior Mason Unger (475 passing yards) will again split duties at quarterback. Senior Nate Mentzer will anchor the offensive and defensive lines. And the kicking game should be strong with the return of All-Star Jordan Trostel (17 points after touchdown, three field goals).
Quote: Mentzer: "We were young last year, but that's not an excuse for us this year. And we're happy that's not going to be an excuse. We return a ton of starters. We only lost four seniors."
Schedule: 8/29 at Annville-Cleona, 9/05 at Waynesboro, 9/12 vs. New Oxford, 9/19 at Fairfield, 9/26 vs. York Tech, 10/03 at Delone Catholic, 10/10 vs. York Catholic, 10/17 at Littlestown, 10/24 at Hanover, 10/31 vs. Bermudian Springs.
Delone Catholic Squires
Coach: Steve Wiles (120-42 record, 15th season).
Last year's record: 3-6 league (seventh place Division III), 4-6 overall.
Key players lost to graduation: WR Patrick Staub, RB Nate Miller, DT Connor Bossom, DE Isaac Orndorff, LB Cody Kuhn, FB Matt Guiffreda.
Key players returning: OT-DL Chase Kint, K Jay Strickland, WR-S Tyler Loucks, TE-DE Justin Gobrecht, RB-DB Jake Kadis, QB-OLB Jake Wiles, RB-DB Tavian Dorsey.
Returning starters: Seven on offense, eight on defense.
Outlook: Senior fullback Matt Guiffreda (898 rushing yards in 2012 as a junior) went down with a broken leg in Week 3 last season and missed four games. He still ended up totaling 644 yards on the season, but his momentary absence left an already young team searching for options offensively. That contributed to the Squires uncharacteristic losing season (3-6 league, 4-6 overall). Fifteen starters (seven on offense, eight on defense) return this fall, though, aiming to get Delone Catholic back on track. Behind three returning offensive linemen, senior running back Jake Kadis (203 rushing yards) will pave the way on the ground. Longtime coach Steve Wiles also expects junior running back Tavian Dorsey (107 receiving yards, 62 rushing yards) to have a breakout season after seeing limited action as a sophomore in 2013. Jake Wiles (775 passing yards) is back under center for his senior campaign but will need new targets with the graduation of receiver Patrick Staub (485 receiving yards).
The Squires had the fifth-best run defense in the league last year while sitting middle of the pack in pass defense. This bodes well for a unit that returns eight starters, led by defensive linemen Chase Kint and Justin Gobrecht up front and a strong secondary featuring Kadis, Dorsey and Tyler Loucks. The kicking game should be strong, too, with the return of senior Jay Strickland, a second-team All-Star selection last fall.
Quote: Wiles: "Last year's record should provide motivation."
Schedule: 8/29 at Trinity, 9/05 vs. Columbia, 9/12 vs. St. Paul's (Md.), 9/19 vs. York Catholic, 9/26 at Littlestown, 10/03 vs. Biglerville, 10/10 at Bermudian Springs, 10/17 vs. Fairfield, 10/25 at York Tech, 10/31 vs. Hanover.
Fairfield Green Knights
Coach: Darwin Seiler (third year, 7-14 record, last year's Division III Co-Coach of the Year).
Last year's record: 5-4 league (fourth place Division III), 6-5 overall (District 3-A semifinals).
Key players lost to graduation: RB Nick Mort, WR-KR Chase Senseney, OG-DT Brett Harris, DE Tyler Burhman, ILB Nick Mort, ILB Cody Anders.
Key players returning: QB Mason Flickinger, RB/WR-S Mike Quealy, WR-ILB Antijuan Washington, WR Brandon Hummel, RB Brandon Selman, OL Ryan Hovis.
Returning starters: Six on offense, six on defense.
Outlook: The Knights blew everyone out of the water a year ago. Up until 2013, Fairfield hadn't won more than three games in a season. In his second year as head coach last fall, Darwin Seiler steered his club to a fourth-place finish in Division III, an appearance in the District 3-A tournament and went 6-5 overall, the best record in the program's 11-year history. For his efforts, Seiler earned Division III Co-Coach of the Year honors. Eight of his players were first-team or second-team All-Star selections as well. Now the real question is if Fairfield can have a repeat performance or go back to hanging around the cellar of Division III. Twelve returning starters (six on offense, six on defense) will provide the answer. Among them is senior quarterback Mason Flickinger, who tallied 1,017 yards through the air and 355 yards on the ground last season. However, he'll no longer be able to throw to All-Star wideout Chase Senseney (27 receptions for 530 yards, 11 touchdowns) or hand off to running back Nick Mort (1,492 rushing yards, 23 touchdowns). Attempting to fill those gaps will be wideouts Antijuan Washington (120 receiving yards) and Brandon Hummel (124 receiving yards) and the versatile Mike Quealy (92 receiving yards, 279 rushing yards).
Quote: Seiler: "Last year changed our level of expectations and that's a fundamental change at Fairfield. I've been telling them all year now that one season is great, but now we got to replicate that. That's what our challenge is this year and I don't think we're going to surprise anybody."
Schedule: 8/29 at Newport, 9/05 at James Buchanan, 9/12 vs. Carson Long, 9/19 vs. Biglerville, 9/26 at Bermudian Springs, 10/03 vs. Hanover, 10/10 vs. York Tech, 10/17 at Delone Catholic, 10/24 vs. York Catholic, 10/31 at Littlestown.
Coach: Bill Reichart (first full season, 0-5 record).
Last year's record: 1-8 league (ninth place Division III), 1-9 overall.
Key players lost to graduation: RB Trace Russ.
Key players returning: WR-FS Dylan Krieger, RG-MLB Garrett Reichart, RB-OLB Colton Ehrhart, QB-FS Kyle Krout.
Returning starters: Three on offense, four on defense.
Outlook: A 1-4 start to the 2013 season was bad enough. Then Mike Ketterman resigned at the season's midpoint. And Hanover went on to lose its final five games to finish near the bottom of Division III for the third year in a row. Perhaps with only seven returning starters and 15 new starting spots up for grabs, the Nighthawks could use some young blood to change their fortunes. The only areas Hanover was strong in last season came in the passing game, both offensively and defensively. That should continue into 2014 with the return of senior Dylan Krieger (45 receptions for 719 yards) at wideout and junior Kyle Krout taking over the full-time starting gig at quarterback after totaling 420 passing yards in limited time last fall. Krout and Krieger are also defensive backs. Look for juniors Jordan Laughman and Colton Ehrhart to handle the running load, with Hanover having graduated its top-three runners from a year ago. Senior Garrett Reichart, son of Coach Bill Reichart, will anchor the defense at middle linebacker. The Nighthawks are still aiming to get their first win under Bill Reichart, who took over the head coaching gig in Week 6 of last year.
Quote: Garrett Reichart: "For us to get a win at our new, renovated stadium we haven't done that yet. I think we have two very winnable games at the beginning of the season, at home I think it's going to happen."
Schedule: 8/29 vs. James Buchanan, 9/05 vs. Kennard-Dale, 9/12 at Eastern York, 9/19 vs. Bermudian Springs, 9/26 at York Catholic, 10/03 at Fairfield, 10/10 vs. Littlestown, 10/18 at York Tech, 10/24 vs. Biglerville, 10/31 at Delone Catholic.
Coach: Mike Lippy (12th year, 92-35 record, last year's Division III Co-Coach of the Year).
Last year's record: 9-0 league (first place Division III), 12-1 overall (District 3-AA runner-up).
Key players lost to graduation: QB-OLB-P Trevor Hildebrand, CB Dustin DeGroft, DT Kevin Billand, DL Darren Dickensheets, WR Garret Trout, DE Jake Bankert, ILB L.J. Miles, OLB Todd Cook, CB Brent Chrismer.
Key players returning: S Lucas Reynolds.
Returning starters: Lippy: Three to four on both sides of the ball.
Outlook: The Thunderbolts won their second division title in four years by going 9-0 in league play last season, reaching the District 3-AA title game and finishing with a 12-1 overall record, marking the most wins in a season in program history. Longtime Littlestown coach Mike Lippy will pretty much have a brand new team this year, though. He returns only three to four starters on both sides of the ball, highlighted by 2013 Division III All-Star safety Lucas Reynolds (59 tackles, two interceptions, one recovered fumble last season). Gone to graduation are quarterback/linebacker Trevor Hildebrand, running back/cornerback Dustin DeGroft, wide receiver Garrett Trout and defensive linemen Darren Dickensheets and Kevin Billand, all of whom were Division III All-Star selections last season.
Quote: Lippy: "The division is wide open. Wide open. Bermudian and Delone are always there. Biglerville a few years ago. It's why you play every year and it's why you go out on Friday night. We just hope to remain competitive like we've been doing years and years."
Schedule: 8/29 vs. Boiling Springs, 9/05 vs. Greencastle-Antrim, 9/12 at Lancaster Catholic, 9/20 at York Tech, 9/26 vs. Delone Catholic, 10/03 at York Catholic, 10/10 at Hanover, 10/17 vs. Biglerville, 10/24 at Bermudian Springs, 10/31 vs. Fairfield.
York Catholic Fighting Irish
Coach: Eric Depew (fourth year, 16-17 record).
Last year's record: 6-3 league (third place Division III), 8-4 overall (District 3-A runner-up).
Key players lost to graduation: OG-DE Ben Smith, OT-DT Ian Shelley, C Bradlee Rosenzweig, ILB Doug Mills, WR-CB Miles Elliott, OG-DT Mike Connor, DT Travis Fisher.
Key players returning: QB-CB Hakeem Kinard, WR-ILB Qua'Shawn Grooms, WR-OLB Scott Bartkowiak.
Returning starters: Five on offense, five on defense.
Outlook: York Catholic should be dangerous offensively again this fall with the return of quarterback Hakeem Kinard, who was downright nasty last fall. As a junior in 2013, Kinard earned All-Star honors as a quarterback (1,203 passing yards, 1,688 rushing yards, 33 total touchdowns) and cornerback (37 tackles, one interception, one recovered fumble). The good thing here for Irish fans is Kinard won't be relied upon to do it all. He has a returning target in All-Star wideout Qua'Shawn Grooms (39 receptions for 632 yards, seven touchdowns). And if opposing defenses key on Grooms, Kinard can also throw to senior Scott Bartkowiak (17 receptions for 288 yards) or sophomore Daniel Yokemick (16 receptions for 235 yards).
Where the Irish have questions is on the defensive side. York Catholic had the second-best pass defense in the league in 2013, partly because the defensive line of Ben Smith, Ian Shelley, Mike Connor and Travis Fisher put pressure on the opposing quarterbacks. All four have graduated. Ditto for tackling machine Doug Mills, a Division III All-Star selection last fall. Cornerback Miles Elliott, an honorable mention in 2013, is also gone. On a positive note, All-Star linebacker Scott Bartkowiak (53 tackles, one sack, four interceptions) is returning.
Quote: Depew: "We have a lot of talent, a lot of speed. So we'll take advantage of it this year."
Schedule: 8/29 at Northeastern, 9/05 at Susquehannock, 9/12 vs. Berks Catholic, 9/19 at Delone Catholic, 9/26 vs. Hanover, 10/03 vs. Littlestown, 10/10 at Biglerville, 10/17 vs. Bermudian Springs, 10/24 at Fairfield, 10/31 vs. York Tech.
York Tech Spartans
Coach: Matt Glennon (second year, 3-7 record).
Last year's record: 3-6 league (eighth place Division III), 3-7 overall.
Key players lost to graduation: FB Calvin Savary, RB-CB-KR Stephaun Montouth, OLB Brock Rivera, QB Dalmar Dickson, G Dylan Bowman, G Jake Stine.
Key players returning: T Mason Carl, CB Nashid Bones.
Returning starters: Four on offense, four on defense.
Outlook: The Spartans' three wins last season were the most wins for the program since 2009 (6-4). But second-year coach Matt Glennon brings back only four starters on both sides of the ball, losing his entire backfield to graduation, including running back Calvin Savary, who tallied 1,191 rushing yards last season to finish as the program's all-time leading runner with 3,497 career rushing yards. Mr. Do-It-All Stephaun Montouth has also graduated after earning All-Star nods last fall as a cornerback and kick returner and an honorable mention at running back. Plus, a young team will have to learn how to run Glennon's triple-option.
Senior Nashid Bones, an All-Star cornerback last fall, also served as a slot receiver on offense. He'll now be moving into the backfield this fall. Glennon expects him to be the Spartans' feature back.
Quote: Glennon: "Our center and fullback will be back. The guys who aren't starters, they got some playing time last year. Our quarterback started a game last year then got hurt. He'll be our quarterback this year. A couple of our linemen were working in and out last year."
Schedule: 8/29 at Pequea Valley, 9/06 vs. Eastern York, 9/12 at Kennard-Dale, 9/20 vs. Littlestown, 9/26 at Biglerville, 10/04 vs. Bermudian Springs, 10/10 at Fairfield, 10/18 vs. Hanover, 10/25 vs. Delone Catholic, 10/31 at York Catholic.
Prediction: Of all three divisions in the York-Adams League, this one is the toughest to predict how everything will shake out. Delone Catholic and York Catholic appear primed to battle it out for the division crown, and Bermudian Springs should be right there, too. Littlestown usually reloads every season, but with a near complete turnover of starters it's hard to see the Thunderbolts contending for the division title. Biglerville does return nearly its entire starting roster but will have to make dramatic improvements if it hopes to make any noise. Fairfield finishes in sixth place. It's a coin flip between York Tech and Hanover for the last two spots.
Ryan Vandersloot contributed to this report. Reach John Walk at email@example.com.