STROHECKER: High school football story lines to watch
- High school football in Pennsylvania will have six classes for the first time in history this year.
- There will be six new head coaches for Y-A League teams to begin the 2016 season.
- Northeastern's Shannon Valenti is one of a few returning quarterbacks for Y-A League teams.
It felt like not too long ago all the talk was about high school graduations.
Now, here we are, in the final week of July, and the conversations about high school fall sports are picking up steam. Sure, there might still be a couple of weeks until official practices get started, but next week at this time, we'll be gearing up for the annual York-Adams League football media day, which is essentially the unofficial beginning to the prep football season.
This year is shaping up to again provide plenty of story lines throughout the year, both on an individual team basis and throughout the league as a whole. So, as we start to shift our attention to another exciting season of high school football, here are a few story lines you should pay attention to during the season.
Re-classification: The change that was nearly two decades in the making finally came to fruition last fall and will now take effect for the first time this year.
For the first time in history, Pennsylvania will be a six-class state in high school football (and a few other sports), beginning with the fall sports schedule. What that means is more equality within Classes 1-A through 5-A. However, you'll still have a huge gap in male student enrollment at the highest level, 6-A. A school such as Reading (2,035 male students) will compete in the same classification as, say, a Dallastown (814) or a Red Lion (796). There was just no way of easily avoiding that type of gap.
The new classifications will also lead to fewer playoff teams. Within District 3, there will be 12 fewer playoff spots available, decreasing from 44 to 32, with no class having more than eight teams in its playoff bracket. That type of selectivity will put more of an emphasis on winning regular-season games. Under the old system, there were almost always 5-5 or 6-4 teams that qualified for the 16-team fields in the larger classes, and even some below-.500 teams squeaking into the playoffs at the lower levels. The new format could create some headaches. We may now start to see teams that go a respectable 7-3, only to have their seasons end after 10 weeks of football, rather than going on to the postseason.
There will always be opposition to anything new and the re-classification will certainly have its opponents, especially if it means going 7-3 and missing out on the playoffs.
New coaches: The coaching carousel within the Y-A League never seems to stop, and this past offseason was no different.
In all, there were six coaching vacancies that needed to be filled during the offseason, which comes just a year after there were eight coaching changes. Most notable was the firing of longtime head coach Brad Livingston at Central York. He's being replaced by Josh Oswalt, who is coming from Carlisle. Russ Stoner was named the new head coach at York High, returning to the Y-A League after last coaching in York County in 2014 with Spring Grove.
Kennard-Dale's Chris Grube was part of a two-man interim coaching unit that finished out the final six games last year and was then hired as the next full-time guy at K-D in the offseason. Jeff Mesich will lead Eastern York this year, taking over for Dave Kemmick. Mesich spent the last six years with Northeastern, including being the team's defensive coordinator last year. York Tech hired Charlie Troxell to replace Brian Hanson, while Greg Bowman came over from Northern York after just one season to take over at New Oxford in place of Jason Warner, who didn't return after serving as an interim coach for the Colonials in 2015.
Interestingly, Livingston will serve as a defensive line coach with Northern York this season. Northern's new coach is former Dover head man Bill Miller.
QB competitions in Division I: Don't fault anybody if they say Northeastern is the preseason favorite to take the Division I crown.
Not only did the Bobcats make it to the District 3-AAA quarterfinals last year, they did it with Shannon Valenti at quarterback. Why is that significant? Because Valenti is one of only a few returning quarterbacks in the league, especially within Division I.
Take a look at some of the top teams within the division from a year ago — Dallastown, Red Lion and South Western — and all three of those teams graduated their starting QBs. Cade Gold was one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the league for the Wildcats, Brock Geiman could sling it around the field for the Mustangs, and you saw just how crucial Dalton Grove was to the Lions, when he had to sit out a game because of a suspension in the middle of the season, potentially costing Red Lion a shot at not only the division crown, but a better seed than No. 10 in the Class 4-A playoffs.
Of the Division I teams to make the postseason in 2015, only Northeastern and Spring Grove will return their starting QBs, with Jake Messersmith expected to be under center for his senior season after starting as a junior a year ago.
So, while the Bobcats and Rockets might be sitting pretty with their experienced quarterbacks, the real stories will come from the QB competitions that will take place during August leading up to Week 1.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org