While many of their classmates were still sleeping this past summer, Erik Ramirez and his teammates were preparing for the upcoming football season.
"We were in the weight room at 5:30 a.m.," the Central York senior lineman said during practice on Wednesday evening. "It was strenuous and tough, but it was worth it. I know football is a fall sport, but we started working out in the winter, and we got stronger in the summer."
The 6-foot, 2-inch, 255-pound Ramirez, one of three returning starters on the offensive line, said the weight-training sessions built more than muscles.
"We had an idea who the members of the line would be, and we used that time to build chemistry," Ramirez said. "We had high expectations for ourselves going into the season."
The players fulfilled the expectations.
The 'O' line played well all season, helping the Panthers win the York-Adams Division I title.
Central finished fourth among 22 teams in team rushing with an average of 6.2 yards a carry.
Ramirez, Shane Walker and Carson Venne were the returning starters on the line, and they were joined this season by Nate Stephens and Zane Santos. Ramirez, Walker and Venne are seniors. Stephens is a junior, and Santos, a sophomore.
"Going into the season, we were trying to find out who fit in at guard, and we found Nate Stephens and Zane Santos," Central head coach Brad Livingston said. "Also, Robert Romey came out of nowhere to have a great season at tight end. I'm really pleased with the way they came together."
The players, having achieved one goal, are now setting their sights on another: making a run in the District 3-AAAA playoffs.
The Panthers, 8-2, will open district play on Friday night at home against Exeter Township, which is also 8-2.
"They (Exeter) are pretty big up front, and they're pretty good up front," Livingston said. "It's a matter of whether we can handle their physicality."
Chase Yocum directs Exeter's spread offense.
Yocum has rushed for 737 yards and passed for 832 yards and six touchdowns. Manny Soto is the Berks County team's leading rusher with 814 yards (7.9 average).
"Their offense is very much like ours," Livingston said. "Their quarterback runs some of the same type plays that (Dylan) Hose runs for us and that (James) Way runs for York High."
Hose, like Yocum, is a multi-threat with his ability to run and pass. The 6-0, 155-pound senior has carried the ball 122 times for 684 yards (5.6 average) and connected on 65 of 124 pass attempts for 1,192 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Zach Emswiler, Zane Knaub and Max Haldeman are all big-play receivers for Central with per-catch averages of 27.8, 25.7 and 16.3, respectively. Emswiler is the team leader in receptions with 19.
Robbie Devich is Exeter's top receiver with 14 catches for 241 yards (17.2 average).
Ramirez and his linemates will seek to protect Hose and open running lanes for Breaun Randle. The 5-9, 170-pound Randle is among the rushing leaders in the York-Adams League with 1,219 yards (7.0 yards-per-carry average). Randle has the strength to break tackles and the speed to turn any carry into a touchdown.
The winner of Friday's game will take on the winner of the Lower Dauphin-Chambersburg game next Friday at a site to be determined.
"I feel we have some of the best fans," Ramirez said. "Nothing would please me more than for us to come out and give them a good game on Friday."
Central will enter the contest riding a seven-game winning streak. The Panthers' losses this season were to two other AAAA playoff teams, Cumberland Valley and Hempfield.
-- Reach Dick VanO linda at dvanolin firstname.lastname@example.org.