STROHECKER: Division II football looks up for grabs
- York Suburban won Division II in 2015 with an 8-3 overall record, going 6-0 in division play.
- Eastern York and Kennard-Dale are introducing new head coaches for the 2016 season.
- West York finished 2015 strong, going 5-1 in division play and could build off that for 2016.
When asked which team was the favorite to win the York-Adams Division II football crown earlier this month, few coaches could give an exact answer.
What most did agree on, however, was, essentially, "why not us?"
Frankly, they each had a point. In 2015, in the early part of the season, it was a two-team race between York Suburban and Dover. It later became a one-team race, with the Trojans going 6-0 en route to the crown.
The 2016 campaign looks to be completely wide open.
Last year, Suburban and the Eagles separated themselves from the rest of the division early on, only to have off-the-field issues derail a promising Dover campaign. Meanwhile, a Trojans senior class for the ages delivered a long-awaited division crown back to their high school.
While those two teams have to replace key pieces lost from last year, many of the other teams in the division are building toward a better 2016. This season, the gap between the top and the middle of the division appears greatly diminished.
Filling holes: For the reigning champion Trojans, Thomas Merkle, Brad Smith, Collin Mailman and Dajour Henderson will no longer be part of an offense putting up video-game like numbers. All of those guys, along with several other pivotal pieces, graduated. Still, coach Andy Loucks insists that he still has the horses to replace last year's phenomenal cast of characters.
At Dover, the coaches and players are trying to move on from an off-field incident that saw a number of starters dismissed from the program, derailing an optimistic 2015 campaign. Still, it's hard not think, "what if?" Dover was matching the Trojans win for win until the two sides met in the middle of last season, when Suburban blitzed a depleted Eagles squad and took control of the division.
In a way, however, last year's problems almost served as a blessing for this year's Dover outfit. To close out the year, a number of underclassmen were forced to fill in and play varsity time. So, while still young, this year's Eagles side could be one of the more experienced groups in the division, which could make all the difference.
Speed kills: West York finished last season strong and narrowly missed the playoffs as a 5-5 club, including a 5-1 mark in the division.
This year, the team lacks size, which may cause some problems. But, what head coach Jeremy Jones' Bulldogs lack in size, they more than make up for in speed, which was on display in the team's first scrimmage of the year against Northern York.
If West York can get outside the tackles and operate on the edges, this is a team that can outrun the best of them in the division and could be a huge x-factor in the division race.
Dark-horse teams: Susquehannock is a team, like Suburban, that lost a lot from 2015.
However, the Warriors didn't have quite the success that the Trojans had, finishing 5-5, but 4-2 in the division in 2015. Still, if there was ever a year to graduate a lot and feel strong about your chances, this could be it.
Gettysburg is a team that went through a dismal year last season, finishing dead last in the division. It was clearly a rebuilding year under Matt Heiser in 2015, going 1-9 overall and winless within the division. So, it will be interesting to see just how much the Warriors improved during the offseason and if their rebuild is far enough along that they can contend in 2016.
Eastern York and Kennard-Dale both brought in new coaches in the offseason, with Jeff Mesich taking the reins for the Golden Knights and Chris Grube getting the full-time gig with the Rams.
Mesich has been optimistic all through the spring and summer workouts, and might have some of the most underrated players on his side in offensive and defensive lineman Wyatt Smith, sophomore tight end Seth Berstein and senior fullback and linebacker Keegan Corwell.
As for Grube and K-D, well, once head coach Pat Weider departed midway through last season and Grube took over as an interim co-coach with Eric Updegrove, the Rams showed more competitiveness. They went 2-4 in six games under Grube and Updegrove, which could've been a 3-3 mark had they not lost a 7-6 decision to Millersburg in Week 10. Now, with Grube back as the head man, expect that same competitiveness to return to K-D, along with a fresh new look with its uniforms.
No playoffs possible for Division II: Unfortunately, if there is a negative to the division being wide open, it could be the fact that all seven teams might beat up on each other, possibly costing the division a playoff team.
With the new six-class structure and reduced playoff fields, it's hard to see a team separating itself from the pack in Division II, going 8-2 and grabbing a playoff berth. This division race has all the makings of a team winning it by going 6-4 overall and 4-2 in the division, but that won't likely cut it for District 3.
Still, we could wind up surprised and see a team step up and make this a one-horse show and nab a playoff berth. With no clear-cut favorite, that could make Division II the most interesting of the three divisions in the Y-A League, with every win or loss potentially moving a team from first to fourth or last to second.
Predictions: West York, Dover, York Suburban, Eastern York, Susquehannock, Kennard-Dale, Gettysburg.
Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org.