Dover football team overcomes adversity to lead York-Adams Division II
Dover High School football head coach Wayne Snelbaker had one message for his team at the beginning of the season: "We won't win by making excuses."
At the time, there was some reason to be concerned that winning wouldn't come easy for the Eagles. After all, the team was coming off a five-victory 2014 campaign, and its coach of just two years, Eric Lam, left following the season.
That left a first-time head coach — Snelbaker — to take control.
There was a lot of uncertainty surrounding Dover and it showed in the first few weeks. The Eagles opened the year with a convincing 42-17 win over Shippensburg to get the good vibes rolling. But back-to-back losses to Big Spring and Red Land saw the Eagles enter York-Adams Division II play at 1-2 and still not quite grasping everything that Snelbaker and his entirely new staff was trying to teach.
"The first couple weeks, it took them, the players, some time to trust us and get to know us and what we're doing," Snelbaker said. "We went back and watched the film. We could show you when they did trust us and when they didn't trust us. But once we got that trust, it's been pretty evident the last couple weeks now, 'OK, this is what we're going to do and they trust us doing it.'"
Finding ways to win: Since then, all the Eagles have done is win, despite having every excuse in the book not to.
In the first half of their first Division II game at Gettysburg, starting quarterback Tyler Blazosky went down with a Lisfranc injury in his foot. Then, over the past 2 1/2 games, Dover has worked its way down to its third- and fourth-string quarterbacks, Cole Jesmer and John Sterner, both of whom aren't true quarterbacks. However, all the Eagles have done in that time is win, currently riding a three-game victory streak. They're sitting at 4-2 overall and 3-0 in Division II. They're one of three teams in the division that's undefeated in league play, along with York Suburban and West York, but the only team at 3-0.
Neither Snelbaker nor the team has been handed an easy task to win, yet the Eagles are winning anyway.
"I think us coming together as a team, as a whole, is a big reason why," senior running back Durran Ledbetter said. "Because, at first, we weren't all one in the beginning, but now we're starting to get that brotherhood that all football teams want."
Hometown support: For Snelbaker, there were some added expectations to him returning to his alma mater and taking over the football team. It isn't always easy for former players to return to their schools and coach the team they once played for.
But, like he told his team before the season, he wouldn't allow that to be an excuse in case the team got off to a slow start, as it did in the first month.
"It was explained to these guys, by one of the coaches, that we came back here for a reason," Snelbaker said. "We came back because it's our alma mater and we want to see our alma mater succeed."
Snelbaker came back with his brother, Jim, who handles the offensive side of the ball. Together, they've brought some stabilization to a program that is now on its third head coach over the last four seasons.
Snelbaker's return also gives the Dover community a familiar face to support, and the alumni are starting to resurface and cheer on their alma mater.
"We hear a lot of positive things," Snelbaker said. "It's neat to see some of the alumni coming back that I graduated with. To see them at the games and the support. They're traveling all the way to Kennard-Dale to see us play. So, community support, so far, when we're out, we're hearing nothing but positive things coming back to us."
Setting expectations: When Snelbaker was hired as the new head coach for the Eagles last April, his experience and reputation as a strong in-game coach made Dover a team to beat in Division II. The way he's handled the QB position thus far seems to prove that.
Entering the year, he felt like he had a team capable of competing for a division title and making the District 3-AAA playoffs. His only regret is that he wishes he had more than one year to work with the talented senior class.
"I thought we had the team that could win the division," he said. "Again, I know there's a bunch of teams left on our schedule, but we expected to be competitive, and in our talks, we thought we could win the division, or at least a share of the division, I'll put it that way, and we kind of set the bar to get to districts."
Even with all the position juggling, he still feels that way.
After all, you don't win by making excuses.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow on Twitter @P_Strohecker.