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2022 football preview: K-D seniors look to continue program's momentum

Ryan Vandersloot
For The York Dispatch

There are many instances of players saying they need to leave their program better than it was when they arrived.

Many times, those players  found their team near a low point.

That is not the case for the senior class of the Kennard-Dale football organization. The past three years have seen success in a program where such strong seasons have been few and far between.

This year’s class  will have a difficult time bettering what happened a year ago, when the Rams claimed the school’s first-ever York-Adams League Division II title.

With many starters from last year’s remarkable season now gone due to graduation, opportunities  abound for this year's senior class to keep things moving in the right direction.

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Kennard-Dale's quaterback and safety, Garrett McCleary (2) at Media Day for the local high school football teams in York on August 2, 2022.

If you ask the current K-D upperclassman if that is likely, the answer is not surprising.

“Of course,” Kennard-Dale senior quarterback Garrett McCleary said. “That’s always the goal for us. I know we’ve all persevered, and we’re all trying to do that.”

McCleary will have to fill the shoes of last year’s signal-caller Jacob Copenhaver, who was a Division II all-star.

Coach impressed: Head coach Chris Grube, who is entering his seventh season since taking over in 2016, likes what he’s seen from McCleary, who was a Division II all-star as a free safety as well as a kick and punt returner a season ago. His ability to see the field, as well as his speed to elude defenders, will be showcased from a position that typically has not been in the past.

“He’s been a quarterback for us since he was in our youth program and in junior high,” Grube said. “But when he came up to us (in varsity), we really just focused on the defensive side of the ball with him. Last year, we had Jacob Copenhaver, who was a great Wing-T quarterback. He understood his role, and that was that we were going to run the ball most of the time.

“Garrett is a little more athletic in terms of his versatility, so we will be mixing in some RPO (run-pass option) looks for him and that’s something that we haven’t done historically. And that’s what's so exciting about the season.”

The term ‘starter’ for Kennard-Dale a year ago probably held less significance than it would for most other teams in the Y-A League. Because the Rams often held secure leads during the second-half of their contests a season ago, a lot of different and younger players were able to play important minutes.

One such player is lineman Sam Gemmill. Gemmill played significant minutes during the season. He even stepped in late last year when the team’s center, Jeff Mathena, was injured.

Kennard-Dale's offensive and defensive lineman, Sam Gemmill (77) at Media Day for the local high school football teams in York on August 2, 2022.

“Sam got a lot of reps throughout the season,” Grube said. “And he would fill whenever guys needed a break. We have a ton of confidence in Sam, and we have a great right tackle in Jacob Miller, who is another big kid.”

Creating 'a culture': Perhaps the biggest sign that Grube has turned the K-D program completely around is the battles that are brewing in the lead-up to the season. Back in 2016, upperclassman seemed content to assume their roles rather claim them.

That is no longer the case, which brings a smile to the face of coach Grube.

“Yeah, six years ago, guys were playing regardless of whether or not they should or should not have been starting,” Grube said. “That was just the nature of the beast back then, but now I can look guys in the eye and tell them that they have to fight this guy or guys for the starting position. That competition creates a culture.”

Following is a capsule look at the Rams: 

Team: Kennard-Dale Rams.

► Coach: Chris Grube, seventh season.

► 2021 record: 10-2 overall, 6-0 in York-Adams League Division II.

► Key losses (Division II All-Stars in bold): Grant Cooper (OL/DL), Jacob Copenhaver (QB/LB), Micah Partee (RB/DE), Steven Lukes (RB/OLB), Avery Cummings (RB), Andrew Amrhein (TE/ILB), Malachi Partee (OT), Edwin Himmell-Mains (OL/DL), Jeff Mathena (C), Jed Peters (WR/DE), Broc Giland (DB), Nathan Argiro (G), Dylan Jones (K).

► Key returners (Division II All-Stars in bold): Gavin Sparks (RB), Garrett McCleary (QB/FS), Adam Loucks (RB), Hayden Klimm (DB), Joseph Smith (DB), Dominic Smith (WR/DB), Sam Gemmill (OL/DE), Jacob Miller (OT/DT).

► 2022 schedule (Division II games in bold): Aug. 27 at Wyomissing, 1:30 p.m.; Sept. 2 vs. Spring Grove; Sept. 9 vs. Lampeter-Strasburg; Sept. 16 vs. Eastern York; Sept. 23 at West York; Oct. 1 at Fleetwood; Oct. 7 at New Oxford; Oct. 14 vs. York Suburban; Oct. 21 vs. Dover; Oct. 28 at Susquehannock.

Kennard-Dale's Steven Lukes runs the ball for a touchdown during football action at York Suburban Senior High School in Spring Garden Township, Friday, Sept. 24, 2021. Kennard-Dale would win the game 42-10. Dawn J. Sagert photo
Kennard-Dale's Jacob Copenhaver, left, and Steven Lukes celebrate a touchdown scored by Lukes during football action at York Suburban Senior High School in Spring Garden Township, Friday, Sept. 24, 2021. Kennard-Dale would win the game 42-10. Dawn J. Sagert photo