Northeastern building itself into winning program
- Northeastern went 9-3 last year and made it to the District 3 3-A quarterfinals.
- The Bobcats were just 1-9 three years ago.
- This will be the ninth varsity season in Northeastern varsity football history.
The start to the Northeastern Bobcats' football practice on Tuesday would make any old-school coach envious.
Every player had to go through a five-station drill that required the player to take on a ball carrier one-on-one, leading to several bone-crushing hits.
With just a few days separating Northeastern from its Week 1 battle against Daniel Boone, there was no time to take things easy to ensure good health for the opener. This drill was designed to make sure that, even if some players were a little banged up going into Friday, they were at least prepared for the physicality that will ensue over the next 10 weeks.
The Bobcats, however, are hoping the season will last considerably longer than that.
This year is the ninth year Northeastern will have varsity football, by far the newest program in the York-Adams League. Yet, this is, without a doubt, the first time the Bobcats enter a season with expectations at such a high level. They're the talk of Division I and the favorites to capture the division title, which would be a first in program history. So, there's no time to take practices, or even a single drill, lightly. Especially when you're expected to be the most successful team in program history — even if that is something the players and coaches don't want to discuss.
"Being one of the favorites is not something we talk about a lot," head coach Jon Scepanski said. "We take it week by week, and this week we have Daniel Boone, so that's our focus. We'll move on when it's time to move on."
Building a winner: Over the course of the program's history, the Bobcats have a record of 37-47 and have only made the playoffs three times — 2011, 2012 and 2015.
While last year's strong season wasn't necessarily out of the blue, it did catch a lot of people by surprise. Not only did Northeastern win its first postseason game in program history by advancing to the District 3 3-A quarterfinals, it also capped off an incredible turnaround in Scepanski's short tenure.
Just three years ago, in Scepanski's first year as head coach of the Bobcats, they went 1-9. Since then, Northeastern finished 5-5, narrowly missing the playoffs in 2014, followed by last year's 9-3 campaign. So, to say that success was only a matter of time certainly isn't necessarily true. This team needed a dramatic overhaul and it got it, doing so in quick time.
"The progression of our team, I put it all on the kids," Scepanski said. "They get all the credit in the world for their hard work and dedication. It starts in the offseason, and they've definitely been here and put in the time. So, our success goes on the kid's dedication and hard work."
Continuing momentum: Over the course of history, large schools in the Y-A League haven't had success come playoff time on the District 3 level.
Only once has a team won a district championship game in either 4-A or 3-A, when West York turned the trick in 2008. So, anytime a large school from York County has any sort of success in the playoffs, like winning a playoff game, that instantly provides a buzz going into the following season.
What makes things even more encouraging for this year's Bobcats is the fact that a large portion of their nucleus from last year's quarterfinal team is returning, including starting quarterback Shannon Valenti, running backs Anu Johnson and Chris Whack and several key linemen as well.
Bundle all of that together and you create a buzz going into a season unlike any other for Northeastern. It's been nearly nine months in the making, since the last time the Bobcats were on the field in a meaningful game.
"We've come a long way and we're just going to keep pushing," Johnson said. "The way (last) season went just gave everybody hope and we're just going to keep pushing."
The Bobcats are no longer underdogs or flying under the radar. For the first time in the still young program's history, they are the hunted, not the hunters.
Friday night's home opener against Daniel Boone can't arrive soon enough.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org