The Northeastern football team found hope in a disappointing 1-9 finish to its season two years ago.
"We had a lot of close games, and we knew we weren't that bad," Bobcats' senior receiver David Ankney said during practice on Tuesday afternoon. "We proved it last year."
Northeastern, which moved from York Adams Division II to Division I in 2014, finished 5-5 while competing every week against larger schools.
This year, Northeastern is not only competing every week but winning every week so far. The Bobcats are off to a 4-0 start and coming off an impressive 42-0 victory over traditional power Central York. Northeastern is preparing for a home game against Red Lion on Friday night. The Lions are 3-1 overall and, like Northeastern, 1-0 in Division I.
"We have good morale right now, but we're going into the meat of our schedule," Bobcats' head coach Jon Scepanski said. "We're 4-0, and Red Lion could be 4-0. They're very physical, the most physical team we've faced. Plus, they have speed."
Scepanski knows, that whoever the opponent is, he can count on senior leadership. This year's team features 15 players who are in their final high school season.
"We had six seniors two years ago and seven seniors last year," Scepanski said. "Football means a lot to this senior group. Over the summer, they were consistently here watching film and doing other things. When we got back to school, we weren't back two days when they were asking me, 'Coach, when can we get in the weight room?'"
Northeastern's success so far this season can be traced to the veteran leadership, combined with a stout defense. The Bobcats are holding opponents to 13 points a game. A balanced offense, meanwhile, is producing 35.8 points per game.
Anu Johnson is the team's leading rusher with 292 yards, and Chris Whack is right behind at 267 yards. Quarterback Shannon Valenti has passed for 437 yards and six touchdowns while being intercepted just one time. Valenti, who transferred to Northeastern from Central this year, is also averaging 5.5 yards a carry. Ankney is averaging 28.7 yards a catch (six for 172 yards).
"Shannon fit in right away," Ankney said. "It seems like he's been here since freshman year."
Adam Kipp is one of the guys up front who protects Valenti and opens holes for Johnson and Whack. Kipp is a two-way lineman at left guard and defensive tackle.
"I try to be a good leader on both sides of the ball and try to keep everyone up at all times," Kipp said. "This is probably the closest team I've ever been on, and I play football, basketball and baseball. We hang out together and a lot of us have played together a long time."
Ankney said he never gets used to playing on Friday night.
"The atmosphere is unbelievable," he said. "The lights, the fans ..."
Ankney plays for himself, his teammates and a former teammate, Marcus Josey, who is battling leukemia.
"He (Josey) was our quarterback in his sophomore year. I remember after our game against York Catholic (two years ago), he said 'we have 29 more games.' He didn't get 29 more games. I'm lucky. I play every game to my fullest, and I play every game for him."
— Reach Dick VanO'Linda at firstname.lastname@example.org.