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The York Catholic football team is looking to build off a 2016 campaign that saw it goes 10-2 while capturing both the York-Adams League Division III and District 3 Class 2-A championships. Wochit

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When Eric DePew took over the York Catholic football program before the 2011 season, he wasn't fearful about setting expectation levels too high.

In his first six seasons, he had two losing campaigns (2011, 2012), one .500 season (2015) and three winning years (2013, 2014, 2016). Yet, only last year did the Fighting Irish have any sort of hardware to show for their work, claiming the York-Adams League Division III and District 3 Class 2-A championships. They had three consecutive runner-up finishes in districts from 2013-15.

Last year's team, however, put it all together, collecting two titles and advancing to the PIAA Class 2-A state playoffs. After all of that, DePew is confident there won't be any letdown from his team. If anything, he expects this year's Irish squad to be even better.

"We're honestly reloading," DePew said. "I have faith in (quarterback) Wes (Burns). We have more powerful running backs, which is the type of football I like."

Replacing talent: The idea that DePew thinks this year's team can surpass what last season's squad did is a testament to what type of program he's built.

What made last year's team so strong was the one-two punch of senior quarterback Dan Yokemick and senior running back Jakkar Kinard. Together, the two made York Catholic's offense practically unstoppable, totaling nearly 4,500 yards between them. Their play on both sides of the ball earned them all-state recognition.

Obviously, they left behind some big shoes for this year's team to try to fill. Kinard and Yokemick weren't the only seniors to graduate from last year's team, but they were, without a doubt, the most dynamic. 

New quarterback: At quarterback, Burns, who is a junior, will be responsible for making the transition from Yokemick to himself seamless. He's been biding his time as the team's backup for multiple seasons and brings a different skill set to the table than Yokemick. More of a pocket passer than a mobile threat such as Yokemick, Burns should utilize receivers Dimitri Amalfitano, Riley Brennan and others, while also having the protection of a big, nasty and experienced offensive line.

"It helps with confidence," Burns said about having a protective line. "I'm confident in those guys. They do a nice job blocking for me. So far this preseason, it's been like I've had hours in the pocket."

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"The Hogs": Those linemen, who bill themselves as "The Hogs," include three returning starters and a fourth one who saw significant playing time in 2016. 

For a small school, the Fighting Irish might have one of the biggest lines in the league. Seniors Matt Knauer (6-feet, 4-inches, 290 pounds) and Liam Landis (6-feet, 5-inches, 360 pounds) lead the group, while Landis' younger brother, Seamus (6-feet, 4-inches, 370 pounds), should see some time as a sophomore. 

As a whole, the line was always given its due credit for providing holes for Kinard and Yokemick. It'll need to be up to that task again this season if York Catholic wants to replace the lost yardage on the ground. However, instead of having one feature back, the Fighting Irish will turn to a committee, headlined by Kyle Dormer, Andrew Snelbaker and Carter Sinclair.

"We have a bigger running back this year in Drew Snelbaker," Sinclair said. "He's a big kid and our line is big. We have the same line as last year."

"Better than last year:" It's easy to say that last year's squad successfully met any expectations that DePew set for the program when he first arrived in 2011.

What happened last year, however, was part of the 2016 team's legacy. This year's team is out to establish its own.

Expectations are still the same — to defend the Division III crown and District 3 2-A title, but to also advance further in states and try to win a game or two.

Few teams around the Y-A League lost impact players as significant as Kinard and Yokemick. Just don't tell anyone on the 2017 Irish team that.

As far as this year's Fighting Irish are concerned, they can be just as good, if not better.

It's a bar that's been set at a lofty height.

"We have our core values. We preach love — they gotta love each other. Believe — they gotta come out and believe and attack and finish everything they do," DePew said. "If we can take that to another level, not taking nothing away from last year's team, but this year's team could be better that last year."

— Reach Patrick Strohecker at pstrohecker@yorkdispatch.com

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