Stoner has big goals for struggling York High program
- York High went 0-10 in 2015, finishing last in York-Adams Division I.
- Stoner is entering his first year as Bearcats' head coach after last coaching Spring Grove in 2014.
- York High last made the playoffs in 2010. Its last winning season came in 2009.
Russ Stoner is one of the few people who sees potential hope in the downtrodden York High football program.
He would almost have to, or else there would be no reason for him to take on the task as the team's new head coach. Of course, he also realizes the tremendous challenge that awaits him, but that just served as another reason to get back into coaching.
After sitting out the 2015 season as a coach, Stoner admitted he took in many of the Bearcats' football games last season, varsity and junior high. He worked with some of the athletes during a camp in November and that's when he noticed that the performance on the field did not indicate the type of athletes that York High possessed.
"As I've gotten to know all of these guys and be with all of these guys, it's not much of a challenge," Stoner said during Monday's York-Adams League Media Day. "They work extremely hard. They've bought into what we're trying to do. We put together a great staff and, at the end of the day, we've had 77 workouts since I've been hired (in March) and we have 18 kids who have never missed a workout."
Fully committed: From the tone of Stoner's message, it seems the Bearcats' turnaround is already in progress. But, talk of offseason and preseason workouts is just that — talk. The real test will come when the games begin.
The Bearcats again face a daunting schedule, one that is nearly identical to a 2015 slate that saw them lose games by an average margin of 35.1 points per game. York allowed more than 30 points nine times last year, got shut out four times and scored more than 10 points on just four occasions. Not surprisingly, York finished 0-10.
Those results caused some members of the team to walk off the field during practice and skip team workouts last season. At some games, there were as few as 20 players on the sideline. That had to be disheartening for the Bearcats' fans, especially considering that York High is one of the larger schools, not just in the league, but also in District 3.
"The one thing that the players at York High have to understand is that it's a 12-month program," Stoner said. "Academics, behavior, effort, the whole thing. York High has lost that piece a bit, but (the players) have done a phenomenal job of bringing that back."
Establishing structure: One of the questions surrounding Stoner's hire at York High had to do with his coaching method. He was known as a very intense guy during his four-year stint as the head coach at Spring Grove. Stoner can scream and yell with the best of them.
So how would the Bearcat players respond to that approach?
Stoner said he won't change the way he coaches to suit his players, rather they need to adjust to him. He admitted to already throwing kids off the practice field for not complying to his ways during offseason workouts. Instead of taking it negatively, however, Stoner said the players have responded to it positively, understanding that this type of discipline is what they lacked.
"It's a different experience," senior lineman Marcus Mitchell said. "A coach that actually cares, that wants you to go hard and put a lot of effort in. It was almost a shock to us. When we went on the field last year, we did whatever we wanted. It was like street football. We just showed up and did what we want. This year, we're organized, we have a set plan of what we're going to do. It's actually structured."
Restoring a proud program: While Stoner excelled during his high school days for West York, much of his family graduated from York High, so he has a strong connection to the program. He also grew up during the height of Bearcat football. In those days, if York High football was good, it was good for all of York County football, he said.
Those years, however, are long in the past. Now it's up to him to try to steer the Bearcats back in that direction.
Since Stoner took over not quite five months ago, he says participation from the varsity level all the way down to the middle school level has reached 100 players. More players are coming out for the varsity team with each passing day. Stoner, however, has also lifted expectations, meaning that just because kids are showing up doesn't mean they'll play. He said that's a big change from last season..
Stoner also isn't afraid to pump up different parts of his team. He said the athleticism of his defensive line is excellent. He even said it has the potential to be one of the best he's ever coached. The opposite, however, can also be said about his offensive line, which he acknowledged has some work to do.
The process of getting York High back to what it once was will likely be a several-year journey. York won its last playoff game in 2009 and last made the playoffs in 2010. Winning a difficult York-Adams Division I may be years off. The same can be said of making the District 3 6-A playoffs.
Winning a game this year and then maybe a second and a third, will be considered a success.
Every positive step is a giant leap to escape the dreadful 2015 campaign and Stoner is confident he can help restore what was once a proud program.
"These guys have to learn how to win again," he said. "And we want to bring swagger back. We want these guys to have fun and we want everyone to know that York High is different."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org