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Coach Russ Stoner and the rest of his coaching staff celebrate with the York High Bearcats' football team after a big victory vs. Dallastown during the 2017 season. Elijah Armold, York Dispatch

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It’s that time of year.

The high school football season is now just days away.

In less than three months, the York-Adams League contenders will be clearly separated from the pretenders.

Still, why wait for the games to be played? Where’s the fun in that?

Trying to forecast the football future is always an amusing diversion — for fans, players, coaches and, yes, especially the media.

That’s where this column comes in. It’s one attempt at gridiron prophecy.

Three months from now, it will likely best be used to wrap fish or line a bird cage (if you are actually reading the printed version). For online customers, it will simply fade into cyberspace obscurity, along with every other misguided prediction column.

That’s because prognosticating the actions of teenage boys is a notoriously difficult assignment. As a group, they can be mercurial. One week, they’ll flourish, the next week they’ll flop.

Of course, that’s why high school football is so entertaining.

Take the 2017 season, for instance. Who could’ve predicted that York High would go from 1-9 in 2016 to 9-2 and a Division I co-championshp in 2017? Or that Susquehannock would soar from 3-7 in 2016 to 8-3 and a Division II outright crown in 2017?

The answer would be practically no one, except for the true believers in the City of York and down Glen Rock way.

So, with that as background, here’s one feeble attempt to foresee the outcome of the 2018 Y-A football season, which starts Friday night:

Division I: There appears to be a clear divide in D-I separating the favorites from the underdogs.

The defending D-I co-champs (York High and Dallastown) look strong again, as do the two teams that finished just a game back in the 2017 standings (Red Lion and Central York).

All four of those programs feature serious returning talent and top-level coaching.

At York High, Dayjure Stewart is getting Division I looks and Rob Rideout is the returning D-I Defensive Player of the Year. Head coach Russ Stoner, the architect of last year’s stunning turnaround, is looking for even bigger things this year.

At Dallastown, Nyzair Smith is back after rushing for more than 2,000 yards and earning D-I Offensive Player of the Year honors. In addition, the Wildcats’ new head coach, Ron Miller, established himself as one of the league’s top leaders during his spectacularly successful stint at West York.

At Central York, the Panthers boast the league’s top returning quarterback in Cade Pribula, who has already committed to play at the Football Championship Subdivision level at Delaware. His coach, Josh Oswalt, has had the Panthers moving on an upward trajectory during his two years at the school.

At Red Lion, fullback/linebacker Eli Workinger is a returning All-D-I performer who figures to be the leader of a program that returns 14 starters and has enjoyed consistent success under head coach Jesse Shay, including 25 regular-season wins in the last three seasons.

The rest of the teams in the division (Northeastern, Spring Grove, South Western and New Oxford) are all coming off losing D-I records in 2017, and figure to struggle again in 2018, although Northeastern does have the talent to be this year’s surprise team.

So how does D-I shake out? It’s tempting to predict a four-way tie among York High, Dallastown, Red Lion and Central, but that would be the coward’s way out.

So, here’s the best guess on the finish: 1. Dallastown. 2. York High. 3. Red Lion. 4. Central York. 5. Northeastern. 6. South Western. 7. Spring Grove. 8. New Oxford.

Division II: While D-I seems to have a clear divide between the favorites and underdogs, that’s hardly the case in D-II.

A decent argument could be made that any of the seven D-II teams could emerge as the division champion.

Susquehannock is the defending champ, but returns just five starters. Steve Wiles, however, has proven to be one of the league’s top coaches in his long career.

Dover was the D-II runner-up in 2017 and has lots of returning talent, including a talented backfield in Brandon Lawyer, Derek Arevalo and Justin Johnson.

Gettysburg was third in the division a season ago and returns 14 starters, led by standout running back Ammon Robinson.

Kennard-Dale went 5-5 last season. That may not sound like much until you consider the Rams were winless in 2016. Coach Chris Grube has the Rams pointed in the right direction.

West York was just 2-8 a season ago, but returns lot of talent at the skill positions, paced by running back Ay’Jaun Marshall, who figures to play at the NCAA Division I level.

York Suburban was also 2-8 last season, but suffered a couple heartbreaking losses in 2017. Suburban, however, was the D-II champ in 2016 and 2015.

Eastern York was yet another 2-8 team in 2017, but has a new head coach in Joshua Campbell, who is hoping to inject new life into a program that has just 10 wins over the last three years.

This is one tough call, but here’s how D-II figures to end: 1. Dover. 2. Gettysburg. 3. West York. 4. Susquehannock. 5. York Suburban. 6. Kennard-Dale. 7. Eastern York.

Division III: The D-III race bears a striking resemblance to D-I.

There appears to be four real contenders (York Catholic, Bermudian Springs, Littlestown and Delone Catholic) and four others scratching to reach the upper echelon (Hanover, Biglerville, York Tech and Fairfield).

York Catholic and Littlestown shared the D-III title in 2017, with Delone and Bermudian each a game back.

The Fighting Irish program has developed into a small-school power under head coach Eric DePew, reaching five straight District 3 title games.

Bermudian, Littlestown and Delone are all traditional D-III powers. The Eagles and Thunderbolts are led by two of the winningest coaches in the league in Jon DeFoe (130 wins at Bermudian in 19 seasons) and Mike Lippy (114 wins at Littlestown in 15 seasons).

Delone is coming off an 8-2 season and has a standout returning QB in Evan Brady. Bermudian (Chase Dull) and Littlestown (Jakob Lane) also return excellent QBs.

Bermudian, however, lost just four starters from last year’s 7-4 squad.

If any team is likely to be a surprise in 2018, it could be Hanover, coming off 19 wins in the last three seasons.

Biglerville and Tech combined for just one win in 2017. Fairfield, meanwhile, won four games last year, but barely has enough bodies to field a varsity team this season.

Here’s how it may shake out: 1. Bermudian Springs. 2. Littlestown. 3. York Catholic. 4. Delone Catholic. 5. Hanover. 6. Biglerville. 7. York Tech. 8. Fairfield.

So, there you have it. One possible scenario for the season ahead. Let the grousing begin from those who feel their teams are being overlooked and underappreciated.

Just remember, this is for entertainment purposes only.

And in three months, everyone can look back at this exercise in football forecasting and most likely enjoy a hearty laugh.

Steve Heiser is sports editor for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sheiser@yorkdispatch.com.

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