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Plagued by depth issues and low participation numbers that have resulted in a few down seasons, the Eastern York School District turned to one of its own to resurrect its varsity football program.

On Thursday, Jan. 18, the school board approved the hiring of Josh Campbell as its next head coach.

Campbell, a 2003 Eastern graduate and former Golden Knights player, takes over for Jeff Mesich, who resigned in December to attend to family matters.

“I’m thrilled with the opportunity to work at Eastern York, more so coach at Eastern York. I have a lot of pride. If you pin prick me, I’m going to bleed blue and gold,” Campbell said. “I love the community that we have here. I’m very eager to work with the community. We have lots of resources here that I think we can use to be a successful program. “

Mesich compiled a 6-14 record in two seasons with the Golden Knights. In 2017, Eastern went 2-8, with a 1-5 mark in York-Adams Division II play, during a season that saw the program struggle with a small roster.

Familiar face: Campbell is anything but a stranger to the Golden Knights athletic community. Drawing on that familiarity is one of the ways he plans on increasing roster size.

For Campbell, it begins with establishing a new identity for the program, one that includes a heavy focus on community.

“Numbers were a little low at the end of last year. I can’t speak to why, or what was done in the past. Because, quite honestly, that was yesterday, and I’ll only speak going forward,” Campbell said. “In regard to that, one of the things that myself and our staff is going to pride ourselves on is having great rapport with the community.”

Campbell plans to build those relationships by “putting ourselves out there,” and interacting often with the students and community. That will likely include attending various athletic contests and creating family-friendly events where the staff can introduce themselves and “integrate ourselves into the community to build those numbers up.”

A sixth-grade science teacher at the middle school, Campbell has also spent the past three years as the assistant athletic director. He’s also a former assistant coach with the football program and has helped with the junior high wrestling team.

“I think that one of the things that will be a benefit is working in the middle school. So, I’m in the school, but I’m also in the junior high. And I think that will help the junior high numbers, too," he said.

“My goal is to have some staff in each school, if possible, because I think that is a benefit of having that ability to reach the kids easier. But again, it’s just going to be putting ourselves out there and create a buzz that’s positive about the football program. We’re going to develop a football program that our kids are going to want to be a part of.”

Another plan for the team’s new identity includes a renewed focus on toughness and developing quality individuals as well as improved football players.

“One of the things we’re definitely going to bring is we’re going to bring a sense of toughness to Eastern York football again," he said. "I believe we’re going to be one of the toughest teams in York, is what we’re going to pride ourselves in,” Campbell said. “No matter what we do, we’re going to have four principles guide us — respect, accountability, dedication and grit. And that’s going to lead us to where we go. “

Football experience: Despite his youth, the 32-year-old Campbell is well-experienced on the gridiron. A former player during his high school days, Campbell first returned to the Knights in 2008 as a defensive coordinator under then-coach Jeff Shutter.

He held the same post when the school turned to Rich Brubaker as head coach in 2011, and remained when Dave Kemmick took over the program in 2014. The 2015 season was Campbell’s last coaching football before helping with the junior high wrestling team and serving as assistant AD.

Ultimately, that long connection to the school prompted the district to hire him.

“Josh is energetic, positive and a great communicator. He has a terrific understanding of our school, community and football program. Mr. Campbell has coached multiple sports at Eastern York, and in those situations, has done a great job of increasing participation numbers,” said Eastern AD Donald Knaub. “I couldn't be happier about this hire and have complete confidence that he will have a positive impact on our student-athletes and the football program.”

Team history: The Golden Knights have just one winning season since 2002. That was in 2014 when Eastern finished with a 7-4 mark and made the District 3 playoffs under Kemmick.

The last time the program captured a York-Adams division title was in 1990, when the team took home a D-II crown. The season saw the Golden Knights go 7-3-1 overall and post a 4-1-1 division mark. The team also shared a D-II title the year before.

Both of those title teams were led by star running back/linebacker Jon Witman, who went on to play fullback at Penn State and in the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Campbell is the fifth head coach of the Golden Knights since 2006. He’ll take over a program entering its 43rd season with an overall record of 125-294-4.

Campbell is still in the process of meeting with returning and potential new players, as well as meeting with and trying to assemble his coaching staff.

His hiring leaves Dallastown and Hanover as the only York-Adams teams without a head coach.

“Josh Campbell has a great vision and plan for the Eastern York football program,” Knaub said. “I believe the kids, parents and community will see first-hand the type of energy, passion and commitment he brings.”

— Reach Elijah Armold at earmold@yorkdispatch.com

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