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Central York junior quarterback Cade Pribula talks about what it was like to start as a sophomore in 2016 and expectations for 2017.

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There's a price to pay when you come out of seemingly nowhere to shock almost everyone with a strong season.

Well, depending on how you want to view being a favorite to win a division, it can either be something taken as a challenge, or something you don't want any part of.

Regardless of how the Central York football team approaches the expectations, it has them. That's the Panthers' reward for going from a 3-7 team in 2015 to 7-4 last year, making it to the District 3 Class 6-A playoffs and doing all of it with a first-year coach and quarterback.

So, now, as we gear up for the first full Friday of high school football on Sept. 1, Central York will head into its showdown with cross-town rival West York as the favorite to win York-Adams Division I. It might not be what the team asked for, but it is what it will have to live with and to live up to.

Each season, there seems to be at least one team in Division I that rises from the shadows of afterthought underdogs to contend for a division crown. That was the Panthers last year. Two seasons ago, Northeastern and Red Lion emerged as unexpected contenders.

So, while Central goes into 2017 as the proverbial team to beat, it won't be without competition. A couple of other teams look to factor into the conversation this year.

Let's start with the Panthers. What makes them scary is the fact that, even after last season's strong performance, much of that team returns. They graduated six York-Adams League All-Stars, but also return six other All-Stars, including Cade Pribula at quarterback. Pribula led the league in passing as a sophomore last year with 2,027 yards and should take more steps forward in his progression.

On top of that, Central returns 10 members of its defense from last year, which should make it one of the top units in the league.

The other two teams that appear ready to contend are Dallastown and Red Lion.

The Wildcats are coming off a down year in 2016, at least by their high standards. Dallastown went 7-3 overall, but only 4-3 in division play, missing the postseason completely. But, what makes the Wildcats an intriguing team every year is that they've proven to be one of the most consistent programs, year in and year out, under head coach Kevin Myers. So, even without a ton to build off of from last year, you can expect Dallastown to be in the mix again, just based on recent history.

As for the Lions, no team from last year was hit harder by graduation. However, with a senior-laden class in 2016, the Lions made it count, going 10-0 in the regular season and winning the Division I title. But, a one-and-done outcome in the district playoffs brought an abrupt end to an otherwise special season. Most teams that lose more than 90 percent of its starters from one season to the next would be expected to take a step back. However, with Red Lion, in many games last year, it blew out opponents, allowing the second- and third-string units to see valuable varsity time. Now, those players are moving into starting roles, which may make any drop off less dramatic. That could keep the Lions in the hunt for a division title and district playoff berth.

Middle of the pack: The middle of the division should be occupied by about four teams this year. Northeastern, Spring Grove, South Western and York High should all factor into this mix.

Last year, the Bobcats were in the position that Central York is in now — the preseason favorite to win the division. For the most part, they lived up to the hype, minus a pair of losses to Red Lion and the Panthers. They qualified for districts, but lost on a last-second touchdown and two-point conversion to lose by a point. Northeastern will be starting a sophomore at quarterback in Zech Sanderson, which, realistically probably makes it a 6-4 type team.

The Rockets have been a .500 team in their first two years under head coach Kyle Sprenkle and they seem destined for that again. Unfortunately, for a 5-A school, Spring Grove can never quite get the roster numbers that most of its competitors do, which holds back the program. Expect another 5-5 season for the Rockets.

The Mustangs went 4-6 a year ago and are probably looking at something slightly better this season. The question with South Western is how the players adapt to new head coach Chris Heilman, who was the only new Y-A coach hired in the offseason. He served as a longtime assistant with the team, so the players should know him well, but the talent just doesn't quite seem to be there at the moment to contend for a division crown.

The Bearcats are an interesting team with the way the program is developing under Russell Stoner. After winning once last year, York High is in place to take a big step toward being relevant again. If nothing else, the Bearcats might have the most dynamic player in the league this year in running back Khalid Dorsey, who's receiving some Football Championship Subdivision interest. One coach described York High as a team on the same level as Northeastern this year, which could put the Bearcats in the 4-6 win range.

Then there's New Oxford, a team coming off an 0-10 season in 2016. Unlike in the other two divisions, Division I isn't the place to be if you want to make a dramatic jump in a year's time. It needs to be a steady build and the Colonials look to be at the very early stages of doing that. There might be one or two wins on the schedule for New Oxford this year, but with the gauntlet that Division I can be every season, seeing this team go from winless to even a middle-of-the-pack team seems unlikely.

Predicted order of finish: Central York, Red Lion, Dallastown, Northeastern, York High, Spring Grove, South Western, New Oxford. 

— Reach Patrick Strohecker at pstrohecker@yorkdispatch.com

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