After big 2016 season, new-look Red Lion football team keen on establishing own identity
- Red Lion returned just three starters from the 2016 team that went 10-1.
- The Lions opened the 2017 season with a 35-7 win over Waynesboro.
- Senior quarterback Zach Throne passed for more than 200 yards, while senior running back Zach Crossland rushed for 111.
The goal for any high school team coming off a successful season is to carry that momentum into the next one and continue the winning tradition.
Red Lion football is attempting to build off of last year's 10-1 campaign, which included a perfect regular season. For the 2017 Lions, however, it's about more than just trying to keep the winning tradition alive. This year's team — especially this year's senior class — is making it more personal than most.
If there was one topic of conversation surrounding the Lions heading into last Friday night's season opener, it was about how much the team lost from a year ago. Of the 22 starters from 2016's team, 19 graduated, leaving numerous holes to fill and questions to answer.
The seniors in the Class of 2016 accomplished much in its time with Red Lion football. To an extent, they overshadowed the next wave of players behind them. So, more than trying to live up to the high bar set last season, this year's Lions want to establish their own identity and finally escape that shadow.
"Since we were in seventh grade, all we've lived behind is that class ahead of us," senior quarterback Zach Throne said. "It's just something that we've all been bitter about and it's just about trying to make it for ourselves."
Opening-week win: The first step in showing what this team is capable of began last Friday in its season opener against Waynesboro.
With so many new faces taking on larger roles, some inconsistent play would've been expected. Instead, the Lions looked just like last season's team in the regular season, rolling to an easy 35-7 road win over the Indians.
"It was really a team effort," head coach Jesse Shay said. "There's not many times you can score five touchdowns and a different kid scored each of the five. So that's a team win."
Replacing big shoes: Perhaps nobody on the team has a bigger role to fill than Throne as the team's quarterback.
Last year, Throne premiered at wide receiver, serving as one of the go-to options for senior quarterback Sam Emig. With Emig gone, however, Throne assumed the quarterback spot. Emig left as the program's all-time leader in individual scoring.
Throne showcased his dual-threat capabilities, much like Emig, completing 10 of 12 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns, while also rushing for 87 yards and a score.
"It was just about leading, doing my best and getting out of there with the (win)," Throne said.
Throne also had plenty of support. Three of his receivers had more than 60 yards receiving, while one of the other returning starters from last year, Zach Crossland, totaled 111 rushing yards and 78 receiving yards.
It was the type of all-around effort you'd expect out of a team full of experienced players, not a team that was in its first meaningful game with a practically all-new starting lineup.
Yet, none of that mattered for Red Lion. In fact, the strong opening effort was the type of performance that the players expected out of themselves.
"I expected that out of them," Crossland said about his teammates having a big Week 1. "I expect greatness out of them because we'd like to fulfill what last year's team did."
Earning valuable minutes: If there's any positive from last year's team being so dominant, it's the fact that in almost every game, the second unit found itself playing significant varsity minutes.
Up big late in games, the starters would get pulled and the backups would finish out the game. Now, those same backups are starters, with that experience proving vital in helping players transition into their new roles.
"I was curious to see how they were going to do," Shay said. "One of the nice things about last year's success was that a lot of our games, we were able to get these guys significant time, and not just time when they were playing against the other second-string or JV opponents, but they were going against first-team varsity squads. I was just curious to see what they would do when they were the guys playing in the first quarter."
Surpassing 2016: Every season since Shay took over the program before the 2013 season, the Lions have improved their record from the previous season.
Topping a perfect regular season can't be eclipsed, it can only be matched. Even getting to 10-1 would be a huge challenge.
Still, if there was ever a way for this year's senior class to finally establish its own mark on the program, it could come in the postseason.
Historically, big schools in the York-Adams League don't fare well once District 3 play gets underway. If any team had the chance to put that notion to rest, it was last year's Red Lion team. That didn't happen, however, with the perfect regular-season team going one-and-done in the playoffs.
So, win a playoff game or two and this year's team will have a legacy that even last year's team could match.
"I think we can accomplish big things this year," Throne said. "I'm not going to go into details, but I think we can accomplish big things."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org