STROHECKER: Northeastern favored to win Division I
- Northeastern is the favorite to win Division I this year after going 9-3 in 2015.
- Dallastown is trying to win its third straight Division I title after claiming the honor in 2014 and 2015.
- Central York, York High and New Oxford will all have new coaches this season.
Northeastern head football coach Jon Scepanski said all the right things during York-Adams League football media day earlier this month.
He deflected any questions about his Bobcats being the clear-cut team to beat in Division I this year and supplied "coach speak" on how to manage expectations. Things along the line of just trying to get better each day and not looking too far ahead.
All of that was great at the time, but now that the season is less than a week from beginning, it's hard for Scepanski, or anyone else from Northeastern, to avoid the intensifying talks about just how good this team could be. The Bobcats are hearing the noise and they should be because they've created it. This season will be the ninth varsity season for Northeastern football and never has the hype train been more electric than leading into 2016.
In the other two divisions in the Y-A League, things are a little muddled. Not in Division I. In this division, the Bobcats started grabbing all the attention a year ago when they became the only Y-A League large school to win a District 3 playoff game, going 9-3 overall, and it's only built from there.
It helps that Northeastern is one of a handful of schools in the league returning a starting quarterback from last year in Shannon Valenti, but to go along with him are a number of experienced players from last year's team. So, while the Bobcats may try to go about things like extremely high expectations aren't there, as the season goes, it'll be tougher and tougher to avoid them.
Ready to pounce: Of course, winning the program's first ever Division I crown won't be easy. Nothing ever is in an always-competitive division.
So, in order for Northeastern to be crowned champions after Week 10, it'll need to navigate the gauntlet of teams waiting to pounce the minute it slips. Among those is two-time reigning Division I champion Dallastown, a team that's lost just twice in league competition over the past three years. The Wildcats enter 2016 with a sour taste in their mouths after going 9-0 to start last year before losing their regular season finale and then bowing out in the first round of the District 3 4-A playoffs in back-to-back weeks. Unfortunately, much of that 9-2 team from 2015 graduated, so Dallastown might be taking a step back in 2016. But, if the past has taught us anything, you can never count out the Wildcats.
Ready to also take that next step and win a Division I title is Red Lion, perhaps the second-best team in the division behind the Bobcats. The Lions have finished in second place the last two years and have a very senior-heavy lineup that will make them competitive no matter who the opponent is. But, they'll also have a lot of new faces in skilled positions, including at quarterback, where senior Sam Emig is expected to be the starter after serving as backup in 2015. If you want a game to circle on your calendar, make it in Week 5, when Red Lion hosts Northeastern in a showdown that could play a huge role in deciding a division champion.
Also expected to make noise within the division is South Western, a team with arguably the best player in the league. Drew Hartlaub missed basically all of his junior season after tearing his ACL in Week 1 last year, but the running back is still receiving Division I offers and, according to one rival coach, having Hartlaub instantly makes the Mustangs a serious threat to win the division. To go along with Hartlaub is Nate VanCampen, the quarterback for South Western this year, who is uber talented, according to head coach Damian Poalucci and should be fine replacing last year's starting QB, Brock Geiman.
Building on last year: One team that always seems to get lost among the big boys in Division I is Spring Grove.
However, the Rockets were also a playoff team in 2015 and, like the Bobcats, have an experienced quarterback coming back in Jake Messersmith. Messersmith is a rare breed in high school football in that this will be his third year starting. Unfortunately, for Spring Grove, it might not have the positional depth to hold up on a weekly basis in Division I and could be staring at another potential 5-5 year like last regular season.
New coaches: There are three new coaches in Division I this year and, by no coincidence at all, they're all with teams that finished in the bottom three in 2015.
Josh Oswalt has the biggest shoes to fill by taking over Central York after longtime head coach Brad Livingston was ousted at the end of last season. Greg Bowman will try to replicate the same success he had at Northern York in 2015 — an 8-4 record an District 3 3-A quarterfinal berth — with New Oxford, although that's more of a rebuilding project than one that can be instantly fixed. Lastly, Russell Stoner is the new guy in charge at York High, a team that needs to find any sort of foundation in order to move forward and that's where he'll start in 2016.
It's hard to see any of those three teams really factoring into a Division I title race, or playoff race, for that matter, but hey, crazier things have happened not to completely write them off.
Predictions: Northeastern, Red Lion, South Western, Dallastown, Spring Grove, New Oxford, Central York, York High
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at email@example.com