We're a little more than two weeks away from the start of the 2015 high school football season.
Teams have gone through the heat acclimation period and will begin full-pad practices this week.
It seems appropriate now to begin breaking down what lies ahead for the upcoming York-Adams League season. Over the course of the next three Mondays, leading up to the first Friday night of games on Sept. 4, I will break down each of the three divisions and predict how things may shake out. Each Monday will be designated to one of the three divisions, beginning this week with Division III.
A look back: The 2014 season was all about Bermudian Springs in Division III. The Eagles were the class of the division, going a perfect 7-0 in league play and 11-1 overall, making it all the way to the District 3-AA semifinals before seeing their season end with a loss to Wyomissing. It was the fourth straight year that Bermudian reached double-digit wins and they've won three of the last four Division III crowns.
The only other teams to qualify for postseason play were York Catholic and Delone Catholic. The Irish finished 8-4 overall and their only league loss was a 21-point drubbing at the hands of the Eagles. Still, York Catholic made it all the way to the District 3-A championship game, where it lost a shootout to Camp Hill, 63-49. The Squires finished third in the league, going 5-2, with losses to, you guessed it, Bermudian Springs and the Irish. Then, much like York Catholic, Delone saw its season end with a 17-0 loss in the Class A semifinals to Camp Hill.
2015 breakdown: There are a couple interesting story lines for Division III teams heading into the season. The major one is the two new head coaches who will make their debuts.
Corey Zortman (Delone) and Brian Hanson (York Tech) are entering their first seasons in charge. Zortman is a Delone grad and has experience as an assistant coach for the Squires, but is getting his shot to be the head man at the varsity level. Even as a new coach, there will still be a lot of similarities from last year's Squires' team, from personnel to systems.
"We're gonna run the Wing-T, but we'll have our own twist to it," Zortman said during media day. "I figured it was an advantage to keep continuity with the offense and I've played and coached in two different systems, so I feel like you can take the best out of both."
For the Spartans, they went through much of the offseason and summer with the same coach from 2014, Matt Glennon. However, when he stepped down in July, it left the program in a bind. Fortunately, Hanson stepped up, earning his first varsity head coaching job after being the defensive coordinator under Glennon last year and guiding the ninth-grade team to a 6-2 mark in 2013.
"This was probably the best transition," he said at media day. "Knowing the kids, having the rapport with the kids. And from a football, X's and O's perspective, we're not going to be that much different. A new coach probably would've come in here with a new system and new coaches."
The next major story line with Division III is the amount of returners coming back for each club. Even for teams such as Bermudian and York Catholic, which both lost key players from last year's teams, they will be re-loading with experienced and/or talented players. The Irish are losing Hakeem Kinard, who was the Division III Player of the Year last season, along with standout wide receiver Qua'Shawn Grooms, who was also a first-team all-star. The Eagles graduated quarterback Ryan Markle, running back Briton Shelton and fullback Colton Dull, who were all first-team all-stars. But that doesn't mean that the Eagles and the Irish will automatically be counted out for the division title. Instead, they'll rely on other guys to step up and fill those voids, and both teams have plenty of players more than capable of doing so.
There are also a couple of teams that are looking for stronger 2015 seasons, one of which is Littlestown. The Thunderbolts followed up a 12-win 2013 season with only three wins in 2014, but will bring back quarterback Cody Boyd and wide receiver/fullback Zach Brown. Littlestown definitely has the pieces in place to have a bounce-back 2015 season and, if not contend for the Division III title, possibly return to playoff football.
Maybe the biggest bet to dethrone Bermudian is Biglerville. After a dreadful one-win season in 2013, Alex Ramos improved his team's record in 2014 by four wins, helping the Canners get back to the postseason. Now, that improved team from last season is even more experienced and full of seniors. If there was ever a year for Biglerville to win the Division III crown, this could be it, with a strong line coming back and notable skill position players Ben Hurda (quarterback) and Scott Cooper (cornerback/running back) set for big senior seasons. Cooper could be one of the league's premier rushers, looking to build off an impressive junior campaign, in which he scored eight touchdowns before injuring his ankle in Week 8.
Players to watch: There are a few other notable names to keep an eye on.
Delone has maybe one of the most dynamic players in the entire league in senior running back/cornerback Tavian Dorsey. Barring any injuries, he should have a monster senior season in which he'll look to build off his 571-yard, seven-touchdown 2014 season. He averaged 7.4 yards per carry last season.
Fairfield's Matt Petrie and Aaron Moore are both skill-position guys and should have solid years. They'll need to, if the Green Knights want to build off of last year's 5-5 record. The Knights did lose last year's starting quarterback, Mason Flickinger. Flickinger led Fairfield in both passing and rushing yards.
Lastly, pay close attention to Hanover quarterback Kyle Krout, last year's league leader in passing yards with 1,886. While his go-to target in Dylan Krieger graduated, Krout has all the intangibles to help along the Nighthawks' wideouts and have another big season.
Prediction: And you're 2015 Division III champion is ... Biglerville.
I love the team's experience and there really doesn't seem to be any glaring holes on any parts of the field. Sturdy offense and defensive lines? Check. Quality skill-position players? Check. Capable linebackers up the middle and defensive backs that can shut down opposing wide receivers? Check. Experienced quarterback? Check.
I don't think the Canners will run away with the division crown, but I think they'll have enough of a cushion going into their Week 10 contest at Bermudian that even a loss there may not matter. The upward trend will continue for Ramos' club and, in a wide-open division, his team just might navigate a tough schedule the best.
Full standings prediction: 1. Biglerville; 2. Bermudian Springs; 3. Delone Catholic; 4. York Catholic; 5. Littlestown; 6. Fairfield; 7. Hanover; 8. York Tech.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at email@example.com.