STROHECKER: Division I appears to have clear-cut favorite
Any number of teams could win the York-Adams League Division II and III titles this high school football season.
The same, however, can't be said about Division I. Instead of being completely up-in-the-air, Division I seems about as clear-cut as you can make it in the preseason.
Still, the games need to be played and, while I won't give away my pick this early into the story, there should be a few big name schools that will make some noise in Division I this year and qualify for the District 3 playoffs.
A look back: The 2014 Division I high school football year can be summed up by one name and one team — Addison Quinones and Dallastown.
The senior running back was named Division I Player of the Year while rushing for over 1,000 yards and helping lead the Wildcats to a 9-2 record, a perfect 7-0 mark in Division I and a berth in the District 3-AAAA playoffs. Dallastown was far and away the premier team in Division I and proved it with its performances on the field.
Along with the Wildcats, Red Lion was a pleasant surprise in its second year under Jesse Shay, going 6-5 overall and tying for second in Division I with Central York at 5-2. That was enough to get Shay co-Coach of the Year honors with Dallastown's Kevin Myers.
The Lions and Wildcats were the only two members to qualify for the District playoffs in Division I, but three other schools — Central York, South Western and Northeastern — finished 5-5, creating a logjam within the division. If the same holds true again in 2015, that should create a number of intriguing match-ups on a weekly basis within the division.
2015 breakdown: This year won't be the year of Dallastown.
Quinones graduated, leaving a giant hole at the running back position that could prove costly for the Wildcats. Quite frankly, you'd expect nothing less when trying to replace the reigning POTY from Division I. But, what Dallastown will bring back is an experienced quarterback in Cade Gold. He'll certainly be a key player to watch for the Wildcats if they have any shot to defend their division title.
But, the Wildcats aren't the only team welcoming back their quarterback from 2014. Joining Gold in QB's with experience are Red Lion's Dalton Grove, Northeastern's Blake Einsig, the Panthers' Nik Strine, South Western's Brock Geiman, New Oxford's Corban Czap and Jake Messersmith and Nick Erickson for Spring Grove. So really, that leaves only York High as a team having to replace last year's quarterback with a completely new one. That kind of depth and experience at the game's most important position could lead to some exciting offensive displays this year.
There will also be two new coaches on the sidelines this year in Division I. Both the Colonials and Rockets are hoping to find better success under the guidance of new leaders. New Oxford hired Jason Warner to replace Jason Thurston in the offseason, while Spring Grove grad Kyle Sprenkle is returning to coach his alma mater. The two teams combined to go 3-17 overall last year and 1-13 in league play, with the Rockets recording all the wins. Warner will certainly have his hands full trying to right the Colonials' ship, while Sprenkle is coming into a more optimistic job with Spring Grove. The Rockets were a product of a slew of injuries in 2014 and return 18 starters from last year's squad, one that, despite being four games under .500, was only outscored by nine total points in 2014.
Players to watch: Aside from Gold, Dallastown should also expect wide receiver Jake Jansen to have a big year. He'll be Gold's primary target in the passing game and rightfully so. He's coming off an all-star season as a junior in 2014, in which he caught 31 passes for 372 yards.
The Lions have arguably the most lethal quarterback-wide receiver duo returning from 2014. Already mentioning Grove's ability at the quarterback position, he'll be looking the way of Kendrick Boyd-Gillespie a ton this year and it should allow Boyd-Gillespie to significantly improve on his 21-catch, 242-yard junior season.
Finding a player to watch for Central York, you'll have to move to the defensive side of the ball. If the saying is "defense wins championships," then the Panthers could be in line to compete for one. That's because they're returning their leading tackler from 2014, Isaiah Dickson. His experience and talent up the middle at linebacker will add to an already talented Central defense.
It wouldn't shock me that if Geiman was named the Division I POTY year for the Mustangs by season's end. You can never sell short the impact of bringing back a quarterback for a second season, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's always a good thing. But, in the case of South Western, it's a really good thing to have Geiman back. He was top-five in the league in both yards (1,489) and touchdowns (14) in 2014.
Experience is few and far between for the Bearcats entering 2015, meaning that any player returning from last year's squad that has any bit of it will be depended on heavily. That means, for a guy like Nyshaun Ritter, he'll be expected to carry a lot of the offensive and defensive load as a wide receiver and defensive back. That should allow him to be one of the lone bright spots in what could be a dark season for York High.
The Bobcats are the complete opposite of the Bearcats this season, bringing back a number of returners from 2014. With that said, it's hard to pinpoint one player to keep an eye on, so here are two. Starting in the backfield is Kody Reeser. Reeser rushed for over 700 yards in seven games last year as part of a three-man rushing attack. On the outside is David Ankney, who had a breakout junior year in 2014, grabbing seven touchdown passes.
It's not quite clear who will be garnering the majority of the snaps under center for Spring Grove this year, but if it's the junior Messersmith, he showed signs of being a quality starter last season. He completed 46 of 88 passes for 616 yards and five touchdowns, half of the team's total passing TD's.
New Oxford doesn't really have anywhere to go but up. However, it may just take some time to start that rise. If it does begin in 2015, it'll be because of the senior Czap under center. His passing totals last year aren't flashy (395 yards), but he should build off some of the positives he gained in 2014 and improve his numbers at least some.
Prediction: It was the running joke during media day back at the beginning of August, the joke being that the league should just award the Mustangs the Division I trophy now. South Western's returning depth makes it the clear-cut team to beat in 2015 and it has all the momentum in the world carrying over from 2014.
Sure, the Mustangs didn't make the playoffs last year, but it wasn't from a lack of effort. After beginning the year 1-4, South Western went 4-1 in the back half of the season, nearly missing out on a playoff berth and earning a share of the Division I title because of a one-point loss on the road to Dallastown. The Mustangs will have to cope with the loss of standout tight end and defensive end Seth Janney, who transferred to Malvern Prep during the summer.
Even with the loss of Janney, South Western is in good position to move forward without him and, even if it is a joke, the Mustangs have already won the mental battle with the other Division I teams if they think that South Western is that overwhelmingly good to already be conceding defeat.
Full standings predictions: 1. South Western; 2. Northeastern; 3. Dallastown; 4. Central York; 5. Red Lion; 6. Spring Grove; 7. York High; 8. New Oxford
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow on Twitter @P_Strohecker