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TRAINING DAYS: Behind the scenes with Red Lion football

Patrick Strohecker
505-5402/@P_Strohecker
  • Red Lion is coming off a 7-4 record in 2015.
  • The Lions lost in the first round of the District 3-AAAA playoffs to Cumberland Valley last season.
  • Head coach Jesse Shay is entering his fourth season leading the team, going 17-15 in his first three years.

This week, The York Dispatch is following the Red Lion football team through its first four days of practices, film sessions and strength and conditioning workouts as part of a four-part series called "Training Days."

RED LION — Red Lion's first official football practice of the season started at 9 a.m. Monday.

Which meant, if you were a player, and you weren't on the field by 8:45 a.m., you were already late.

Lions head coach Jesse Shay didn't care that Monday's first practice was also just the beginning of the PIAA's mandatory heat acclimation period. While there were no hitting during drills, he treated it like any other practice, whether it was Aug. 8 or Nov. 1.

Which, of course, meant that there were some players who were out of shape and gasping for air — a clear indication of failing to attend optional team workouts over the summer. By the time the team finished running "gassers" for its end-of-practice conditioning, players were bent over, doing anything in their power not to put their hands on their knees and show fatigue. Some were even throwing up.

Shay had to remind them that Monday was the worst they'll feel all year. He assured them that every day would get easier.

"I want to see who the kids are who can force themselves to do something when their bodies are telling them, 'Hey, I don't want to do this anymore,'" Shay said. "Who's mentally strong and says, 'I don't care if I feel like I can't do it, I'm going to do it because this is what the team needs.'"

Since Shay arrived at Red Lion before the 2013 season, he's transformed the Lions into a consistent playoff contender. In 2012, Red Lion was a one-win team, and in his first three seasons at the helm, Shay has gone on to win 17 games and lead the program to the playoffs the last two years. So, there's a level of expectation that comes with being a Lions' football player now and it starts with the first official practice of the season.

Going into this year, Red Lion is again considered a playoff hopeful and one of a few teams expected to contend for the York-Adams League Division I title. If Northeastern is the favorite, then the Lions, along with rival Dallastown, will be right there ready to pounce, should the Bobcats slip.

However, in order to get there, Red Lion must overcome several key losses from last season's 7-4 team, including starting quarterback Dalton Grove, star wideout and leading receiver Kendrick Boyd-Gillespie and leading rusher Alex Keough. Replacing Grove is senior Sam Emig, who saw some action at quarterback in 2015, senior running back Dylan Gurreri and a slew of senior wideouts who will all be expected to replace the production of Boyd-Gillespie.

"They're a pretty solid group," Emig said about his wide receivers. "They made some great catches (on Monday), so I think they can build off of that."

Training Days with Red Lion football

Shay will use the first week of practices to see what he has, in terms of personnel, going into the season. It's a senior-laden class, so Shay knows that if there is any year to do something big, this year's team has the potential to do it.

But first, he and the rest of the team need to get through this first week, because each day after Monday will only get easier.

"We're not teaching anything new, right now," Shay said. "So, what I want to see, whether it's a senior, whether it's a junior — hey, I've had sophomores who are leaders — I want to see a person or a group of people step up and claim the mantle of leadership for this team."

— Reach Patrick Strohecker at pstrohecker@yorkdispatch.com.