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After losing to Red Lion on a late touchdown in 2018, York High used the defeat as motivation to shutout Red Lion and win, 18-0. York Dispatch

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When Russ Stoner took over an 0-10 York High football team in 2016, there was a lot of work to be done to produce better results on the field.

Four years later, the Bearcats have become consistent winners on the gridiron, but the victories on Friday nights aren’t the biggest source of pride for their head coach.

As the first group of seniors to spend four years with Stoner at York High, he is more excited to celebrate the number of Bearcats who will go to college after buying into the program’s plan to improve their lives.

Stoner admitted he isn’t the easiest coach to deal with. He demands a lot from his athletes because he wants to put them in positions to succeed. Those who listened are likely happy they did.

“I’m tough, I’m not easy to deal with,” Stoner said. “I want to keep putting hurdles in front of kids and seeing how high they can jump over the hurdles. I have not put a hurdle in front of them that they haven’t had the ability to jump over yet, so I’m really excited.”

College-bound Bearcats: Six of the 17 Bearcats’ seniors have committed or signed to play football in college — Tobee Stokes (Saint Francis University), Antonio Jones Jr. (East Stroudsburg University), Trey Bernstein (Kutztown University), Maurice Feazell (Indiana University of Pennsylvania), William Molina (Widener University) and Christian Encarnacion (Stevenson University).  Molina and Encarnacion made their decisions during the past week.

Stoner said he's proud that the number of York High college-bound seniors puts the school in the same company with elite programs such as Pittsburgh Central Catholic, St. Joe's Prep and Southern Columbia. The latter three have produced multiple Football Bowl Subdivision players, while the Bearcats are headed lower-level programs. Still, Stoner doesn’t thank that should diminish the effect that earning scholarships for football will have for the Bearcats.

“Regardless, it’s a college education,” Stoner said. “Most of our kids are going to school for next to nothing. Between their (scholarship) packages and financial aid, they’re going to school for pennies on the dollar. That changes the outcome of someone’s life.” 

In addition to the six Bearcats playing NCAA football, Stoner said 14 of the 17 seniors in the 2020 class will attend college. He reported that those 17 players achieved an average grade-point average of 3.8 and 1,100 average scores on their SATs. 

He said he enjoys hearing them argue over who has the highest grades.

Learning from leaders: Stoner added that he believes the 2021 class could have as many as 10 players earn spots on college rosters and even more in future seasons. The ability to learn from their current and former teammates can teach the players more than any coach ever could.

“If you want to be a collegiate player, all you have to do is look at the guys ahead of you,” Stoner said of his message to younger players. “You can see them in study hall, you see them in tutoring (and) you can see what they do.” 

It’s not just the younger players in the football program who Stoner hopes are taking notice of his players' success in life through football. Through wins in the classroom and on the field, Stoner wants to help kids who face difficult decisions about their future.

“I believe by us doing what we’re doing, it should be opening the eyes of a lot of young kids that sometimes there’s a choice to be made by the time they get into ninth grade — do they choose the streets or do they choose to be involved in a sport that is not just churning out football players, but high academic kids,” Stoner said.

Along with the six seniors headed to college campuses in the fall, Stoner also helped in the recruiting of former York High standout running backs Khalid Dorsey and Dayjure Stewart. Dorsey transferred from Howard University to Shippensburg University, while Stewart signed with Indiana University of Pennsylvania after taking a postgraduate season.

Fueling the fire: While the York-Adams League Division I titles and Friday night victories are exciting, Stoner is fueled by seeing how the players’ futures are changed by earning college scholarships.

After all the demanding practices and meetings, when the players contact him with their college destination, it makes it easier to keep working to create an opportunity for another Bearcat.

“That day when they know where they’re going to go and they text or call you and say, ‘Coach, I made my choice,’ it’s a great feeling to see the kids win,” Stoner said. “That’s the kind of stuff that drives me to keep doing what we’re doing.” 

Reach Rob Rose at rrose@yorkdispatch.com.

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