VIDEO: Susquehannock head coach Steve Wiles talks about the Warriors' D-II title in 2017, their young team this year and the outlook for Division II. JACOB CALVIN MEYER, 717-505-5406/@jcalvinmeyer
When people think about the traits that win football games, they usually think of the classic coach-speak answers.
Defense wins championships.
Games are won in the trenches.
It’s all about who wins the turnover battle.
Of course, each of those football characteristics are important. For Susquehannock head coach Steve Wiles, however, perfecting his Wing-T offense isn’t the main component to keeping his Warriors competitive. Neither is simply playing stout defense, winning up front or protecting the football.
It’s about actually thinking that winning is a possibility.
“When you struggle for as long as (Susquehannock) did, season after season, the expectation is that you’re not going to win,” Wiles said.
The rebuild: Before Wiles took over at Susquehannock, the Warriors were one of the worst programs in the York-Adams League. The program had success in the mid-2000s, but it started struggling in 2008.
While the 2-8 season in 2008 looked like a mere speed bump, it was actually the crest of a steep downward hill. Between 2008 and 2014, the Warriors went 8-62, which included two winless seasons and three one-win seasons.
Despite the program’s struggles, Wiles, who spent the previous 15 years coaching at Hanover and Delone Catholic, was intrigued by the challenge.
“One of the reasons I was interested in this job was I thought that it could be turned around,” Wiles said. “I believed it could be done if they would buy into my system and believe in it and be disciplined. Eventually, I think they did.”
The Wiles-led Warriors won a combined eight games in 2015 and 2016 — the same amount they won the previous seven years. Susquehannock had a large sophomore class in 2015, and Wiles said he spent much of that first season “preaching” to the team — specifically the sophomores — about “believing.”
“I was always saying to believe the guy across from you is no better than you and to outwork the guy across from you,” Wiles said. “It was those things over and over again.”
Division champs: To complete the rebuild, the Warriors made the jump last season from a middle-of-the pack Division II squad to the team to beat. Led by a group of 18 seniors, the Warriors went undefeated in division play and 8-3 overall, earning their first winning season since 2007 and their first D-II title and playoff berth since 2006.
“Last year, we had a really nice senior group, great leadership, quality kids who wanted to win, did the little things and took care of business so we could win those games in the fourth quarter,” Wiles said.
“We were very much a team,” said then-sophomore fullback Dan Clapp. “There was no stud on our team. We all worked as a team and counted on each other.”
Moving forward: Now, Wiles’ Warriors are no longer tasked with climbing the hill, but rather preventing falling back down it.
The Warriors return only three starters on each side of the ball, losing quarterback Hunter Sentz, who accounted for seven touchdowns and passed for 761 yards, and their best overall player, Wyatt Hogan, who was a first-team D-II all-star at offensive tackle and defensive tackle.
The Warriors are also losing three key parts of their crowded backfield: Ben Trago, Kyle Orndorff and Alec Kramer, who combined for more than 1,200 total yards, 15 touchdowns and 136 tackles on defense.
Susquehannock, a Class 4-A school, has only 37 players on its roster this season — about 10 fewer than last year.
“We’re pretty inexperienced this year,” Wiles said. “We’ve got a lot of new faces out there, and a lot of them will be taking their first varsity game snap on Friday. I’ll be anxious to see how they respond.”
Wing-T offense: Taking over for Sentz under center and engineering the Wing-T offense will be senior Kenny Rhyne, who was the starter to begin last season but lost the job to Sentz.
“I think he’s going to be more prepared and more comfortable,” Clapp said. “I think this year he’ll be more calm in the pocket.”
Wiles said it's vital for Rhyne to play with more “confidence” this season.
“He needs to take the reins of this team,” he said. “He’s a captain for us, and it’s important for him to be the leader of this football team.”
In the backfield, Clapp is the Warriors’ best returning offensive player. He led the team in rushing last year with 700 yards and 10 touchdowns. Joining Clapp in the backfield will be his twin brother, Allen Clapp, who saw limited action last season.
Several of the other top teams in Division II are returning more starters from last season, but Wiles said he’s more concerned with his players keeping the confidence from last season.
“I think the kids now have an expectation that every game we go into we should win,” he said.
Susquehannock starts its season Friday at Hanover. Kickoff is 7 p.m.
Reach Jacob Calvin Meyer @email@example.com