New season about to begin

In central Pennsylvania, the month of August is marked by two distinctive sounds: the ping of balls flying from aluminum bats at the Little League World Series and the thud of pads cracking during high school football practice.

And while most high school football players in the area would love to spend their last few days of summer walking around the hill at Lamade Stadium over the next few weeks, most of them will probably be too sore to muster the energy.

The first two weeks of the football season are the most demanding physical grind you will find in high school sports, and it starts on Monday.

Long and hot days in the sun, accompanied by bruising hits, film study, and conditioning practice, are just a few of the reasons players dread the start of two-a-days.

However, with those demanding practices there’s an enthusiasm that grows from the players and coaching staffs alike, because every practice down is one closer to the start of the regular season. That’s when the two-week grind finally pays off.

Many coaches in the area feel like they have a lot to be excited about in 2014, and they shared their eagerness for the season to start at the District 4 football media day luncheon this past week at the Williamsport Country Club.

One team that expects to fare pretty well is Wellsboro, which returns 16 seniors in the upcoming season. Coming off of a 10-1 record in 2013 while winning the NTL Large School Division, the Green Hornets are hoping for more of the same with its newest group.

“We are looking to build upon the success we had last year,” Wellsboro head coach Matt Hildebrand said. “We are going to use that momentum moving forward.”

Quarterback Michael Pietropola and wide receiver Kieron Smethers are two of the senior leaders that hope to keep Wellsboro’s success going. Together, the duo is expected to light-up opposing defenses with the same potent aerial attack that led them to victory last season.

Hildebrand said his group has put in a lot of time in the offseason and is setting the bar high for the future.

“We are going to play every game week by week,” said Hildebrand. “But we have very high expectations this year.”

Another coach with a lot to smile about is Loyalsock’s Justin Van Fleet. But the Lancers lose a lot of quality players from last year’s group that went 8-4 and won the PHAC-II before making a deep playoff run.

“With their graduation we have a tremendous amount of opportunities for kids to come in and play,” Van Fleet said. “Though, we do return a lot of starters on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.”

One of the players Van Fleet is thrilled to have back is his starting quarterback, Kyle Datres. Last season, Datres played phenomenally on both sides of the ball, as he led the Lancers by throwing for 1,490 yards and 14 touchdowns while running for 1,165 yards in Loyalsock’s option-based offense. He also earned all-state honors as a defensive back in the Lancers secondary.

Overall, Van Fleet just wants his team to work on making daily progress. If they do that, he said, everything else will fall in to place.

“We want to get better in everything we do and be the best at the end of the season,” said Van Fleet. “We are looking forward to a heck of a run and seeing how this all shakes out.”

South Williamsport also expects to make another big splash in District 4 this season, following a 10-2 showing in 2013. They hope to keep things rolling along like they did last year, when they used a lightning-quick run game to blow throw local competition.

Montoursville head coach J.C. Keefer hopes that his squad could also be poised to make another District 4 playoff run, though after losing 22 seniors from last season, the road ahead might not be easy.

“That group we graduated weren’t just good players, they were also good young men,” Keefer said. “We are looking to fill some shoes not just athletically, but also leadership-wise.”

“There is a lot that I have to learn here in the next three weeks about our guys, so I can’t really tell you about our 2014 team,” said Keefer. “But I am really excited about it.”

Much like Montoursville, Muncy also has a lot of starting positions to fill after losing the bulk of its starting offense to graduation.

“We might just punt the ball on first down and play defense,” Indians’ head coach Jay Drumheller said jokingly at the luncheon.

Drumheller said that, though his team lost several key players, they are also returning many quality players. The biggest issue he said his team will face is with its depth. If they are going to earn another winning record this season, Muncy will need to work with its underclassmen to fill crucial backup roles.

Jersey Shore is another team that lost a few key players, but they hope to be just as successful this year as they were last year, when they won the District 4 AAA crown. Head coach, Tom Gravish, feels that starts with a victory in the season opener, which is something the team hasn’t done in the last 18 seasons.

“We are trying to put last year in the rearview mirror,” Gravish said. “Last year was last year.”

“The most important thing to us right now is starting out with a victory.”

Gravish also said that his team needs to focus on winning more conference games, which seemed to slip away from them last year.

“If we can do that I feel like we will have an outstanding season,” Gravish said.

There are a few teams in the district that are hoping to see major improvements this season, after under-performing a year ago. Among them are Warrior Run, Hughesville, and Montgomery. All three teams went 1-9 in 2013, and feel like the future is starting to look brighter.

Hughesville will be working under newly-acquired head coach Dan Tucker, who was a previously an assistant at Montoursville. Tucker said the season will be a success based on the effort his team shows, and not on wins and losses.

Warrior Run expects to play better with a junior-heavy team that saw a lot of experience last season. Though fourth-year head coach Mark Burrows admits that no season in District 4 is an easy one.

“Nobody in District 4 likes their schedule, that’s all you hear about” Burrows said to the teams in attendance. “Really that is a tribute to everyone in this room, because there is no easy schedule.”

At Montgomery, head coach Tom Persing is happy to have football registration numbers up considerably from the last two seasons. Last year, the team played with a 22-man roster; this season they have signed-up 37 kids.

“Those are huge numbers for us,” Persing said. “I’m looking forward to having a few numbers to practice with.”

The last area coach to speak at the district’s media day was Williamsport’s Kevin Choate. Choate praised his group’s dedication to the off-season program, and said that he feels good about his team’s chances of improving on their 3-7 record from a season ago.

“The kids have worked amazingly hard and done the things they needed to do to restore the program,” Choate said. “We are looking for a great year.”

“This is the year that Williamsport turns the corner. This is the road that’s going to lead us back to our return to glory.”