Coach Russ Stoner and the rest of his coaching staff celebrate with the York High Bearcats' football team after a big victory vs. Dallastown during the 2017 season. Elijah Armold, York Dispatch
There’s no question that the turnaround has been both quick and remarkable for the York High football team.
After inheriting a program that was coming off a winless campaign in 2015, coach Russ Stoner was tasked with the seemingly herculean chore of getting the program headed back in the right direction.
While Year 1 under Stoner produced just one victory, there was a sense that progress was being made. Players started buying into Stoner’s philosophy and dedicated themselves toward excellence.
The end result was a surprisingly quick reversal in fortune. No longer seen as just an “automatic win” on opposing schedules, York High completed the 180-degree shift by winning nine games last year while sharing the York-Adams League Division I title with Dallastown.
Now Stoner’s task appears just as difficult — finding a way to take things up another level or two, especially come playoff time.
“It’s been exciting to be a Bearcat,” Stoner said. “The community has done a great job and the county has been really supportive as well. We’ve worked hard. I’d say that this is probably the best offseason that we’ve had so far.”
Improved work ethic: Stoner believes that biggest transformation for the program is in the work ethic of his players. During his first year at York High, Stoner had to get on his players pretty much all of the time just to do simple things, such as attending workouts and weight-lifting sessions.
“There’s a routine and there’s a standard now,” he said. “There’s no more guessing. They all know what needs to be done. They all seem to be understanding that conditioning is not on the coaches, but that it is on the player. Before (I came here) it was more like a ‘why are you doing this to me?’ type of thing, but now there are times when I can walk away and they’ll all just do it themselves.”
Academic emphasis: That work ethic is also visible in non-football-related activities.
“They understand that there’s an academic piece to it as well,” Stoner said. “Now we have arguments and little fights about who has the best grades. I know this for sure that in our junior class we have the No. 1 kid in the class and I think that we have the No. 2 and the No. 5 as well. So they are competing like heck in the classroom as well.”
Getting stronger: After a disappointing loss in the District 3 Class 5-A playoffs against Governor Mifflin, Stoner and his team have a pretty good idea of what needs to happen for the Bearcats to take another step or two. The Mifflin players may not have been faster than the York High players, but there was no question that they were much, much stronger.
Stoner credited that strength advantage as a huge factor in Mifflin’s 56-7 rout of the Bearcats in a first-round match-up.
“A team like Governor Mifflin, who is always in the district playoffs and almost always in the semifinals or finals, they are the kind of programs that we want to beat,” Stoner said. “And our guys will tell you this — they were stronger than us. So one the biggest things that we wanted to get done as a team in the offseason was to really, really concentrate on the weight room.”
So does Stoner feel like it has made any difference?
“Yeah,” he said. “I feel that this is the strongest team I’ve ever coached, whether that was at Central (where he was the defensive coordinator) or at Spring Grove (where he was the head coach). And we’re still explosive, too. So we’re hoping to get another shot at the playoffs and make a run.”
Seth Bernstein takes over at QB: Stoner and his team will look for senior Seth Bernstein to take over the reins at the quarterback position. While Bernstein was a Division I all-star as mostly a tight end last year, the 6-foot, 2-inch standout played quarterback at Eastern York as a sophomore.
“Seth was our backup a year ago,” Stoner said. “For the first three or four games of the season we went for two and Seth was our quarterback in those situations. So he has experience and he’s never missed any of our workouts and I’d say he probably has been throwing 1,000 balls a week at least.”
Talent returning: Bernstein’s task will be a bit less complicated knowing that he has a dynamic NCAAA Division I-caliber running back behind him in Dayjure Stewart. Tobee Stokes, a junior, also figures to be a force in the backfield with his explosiveness, while speedsters Rob Rideout and Anthony Jamison highlight a top-notch receiving corp.
“I don’t want to ever say that Seth will just have to manage the game, but his job is to make sure that everyone is calmed down,” Stoner said. “If we need to throw it, we’ll throw it. If he needs to run it, he’s going to run it.”
Defensively, Rideout will likely lead the way after being named the Y-A D-I Defensive Player of the Year in 2017 from his defensive back position.
Reach Ryan Vandersloot at email@example.com.