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Area coaches discuss the lack of coaching changes this offseason, and how that's good for the league Elijah Armold

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Russell Stoner can't explain why it happens, it just does.

He's never had a group of football players that willingly and unprovoked show up to practice more than two hours ahead of time.

This York High football team does.

It's how expectations and attitude have shifted drastically within the program after one season under Stoner. Now, it's time for the program to take the next step.

"They care about one another," Stoner said. "The conversations that they have are not just about football or girls. It's about education, and they're starting to fight about who has better grades and who's smarter."

Buying in: The Bearcats are still only two seasons removed from being winless in 2015. They achieved just one win last year. Last year, however, was about more than just the wins and losses.

So much about the program has changed since Stoner took over before the 2016 season and it started to show on the field last year. Sure, 1-9, with the only win coming against an 0-10 New Oxford team, doesn't scream progress, but some of the losses did. The Bearcats were competitive in games and started to show that the talent is there.

It took some time for the players to adjust to the higher standards that Stoner has implemented within the program, but there's no denying that everyone has bought in now.

"We're held to a higher standard now and everyone is bought in," senior defensive tackle Nate Phillips said. "It's 11 as one, not just individuals."

Loaded offense: There's a sense that York High football is on the comeback trail, and it isn't just about a culture change. The Bearcats return all but one starter from offense last year, including NCAA Division I prospect Khalid Dorsey at running back.

Dorsey is the premier player on offense, but he's hardly the only one. It's a school filled with talented athletes. York-Adams League all-star Dayjure Stewart is back and will be featured in the slot and in the backfield. 

Stoner is also reaping the benefits of four transfers into his program on the offensive side of the ball, which shouldn't make putting up points difficult. There's a quarterback battle between three of those transfers, with Seth Bernstein (Eastern York), Micah Anciso (Dallastown) and Josiah Smallwood (York Tech) all vying to lead the offense. However, Bernstein looks to factor in more as a general athlete, potentially featured behind center in a Wildcat package, while Anciso and Smallwood will fight for most of the reps at QB. 

Then, there's Nigel Williams, a transfer from South Western, who will complement Dorsey in the backfield and provide a reliable secondary option when Dorsey needs a breather.

If there was going to be any weak spot this year, it would be on the offensive line, but even that is improved. The entire group is back and added sophomore Trey Bernstein, who came over with his brother from Eastern York. And the scariest part about the offensive line might be that all five guys will return next year, as well.

In past years, winning just one game wouldn't create much excitement in and around the program. But, everyone involved can see the progress and it's made putting in the work to prepare for the upcoming season much easier.

"It's no fun losing," Dorsey said. "But, if you see all your brothers working hard with you, like last year, we all worked hard. But, my sophomore year, nobody worked hard. It was just a joke. But, these two years, everybody's been working hard, so it's actually fun when you get into the football program."

Commitment to being great: There's a swagger back with the Bearcats and it's evident with how the players talk about the upcoming year.

Rarely will a team make the jump from one win to contending for a division title, but York High believes it can, at the very least, be in the mix. Having the Bearcats relevant again, and not just a doormat in Division I, will add some buzz to the league.

Preparation for this season began as soon as last year ended. Rarely did kids miss workouts, according to Stoner, which is a testament to the players. Stoner said few kids actually have cars, so for them to commit full time to the team, they need to walk or bike several miles to the field, go through a grueling workout and then bike or walk home.

To Stoner, that shows a commitment he never could've imagined and he knows it'll translate onto the field.

"We haven't stepped on (Small) Field yet this year, but we've won," he said. "We're going to win games this year and obviously our goal is to win our division."

— Reach Patrick Strohecker at pstrohecker@yorkdispatch.com

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