Adversity hit Loyalsock hard last season. Several injuries and COVID-19 issues kept some excellent players off the field as the year continued. And yet Loyalsock turned that negative into a positive.
Several young players were thrust into starting roles before coaches expected. They learned quick, adapted well and helped Loyalsock reach districts for a ninth straight season. There are some big holes to fill, but having a strong core of experienced players returning provides a nice boost. The next man up performed well last year and now those young men have Loyalsock optimistic entering the fall.
“By the end of the season last year the phrase, ‘the future is now,’ really became real. We had a ton of guys out on the field that were called on throughout the season earlier than we initially anticipated,” Loyalsock coach Justin Van Fleet. “We already got to see a lot of those guys in action and we’re excited to see them grow and move forward. There’s a lot of excitement within the group and they are ready to give it a go.”
Loyalsock will be going without three-year starting quarterback Chase Cavanaugh, linebacker Joeb Schurer and all-state defensive end Aeden Holler. Schurer missed all but one game with a broken ankle but all three provided production and leadership throughout their scholastic careers. Replacing the talent that trio and several other quality starters provided is one thing, but carrying the leadership torch is especially crucial as Loyalsock tries winning its first District 4 Class AAA championship since 2017.
“Our younger guys are excited about the opportunity to step into leadership roles. Over the years one thing I found is you don’t actually replace those guys. You try and replace their production, but everyone is unique and with all the individuals who have stepped forward, it’s a neat process to watch the group try to figure out who are the alphas of the group and take charge,” Van Fleet said. “That’s something that will continue throughout the season. I have a pretty good idea who the general leaders are at this point, but it’s always nice to see the kids step up in tough moments and see how they perform.”
Many of those players have excelled in other sports as well. Combine that with responding to the challenges 2020 provided and Loyalsock has a tough-minded group. The Lancers did not flinch during difficult times last year and that mindset carries into this season. Whatever Loyalsock can control, it focuses on that and does its best to keep moving forward.
A stable of excellent quarterbacks have helped Loyalsock keep progressing throughout the 2000s. Cavanaugh produced this third straight 1,000-yard season a year ago and now one of three multi-faceted players will take his turn at commanding the offense. Sophomores Nate Bauman and Tyler Gee, as well as Rian Glunk are all in the mix. Glunk played quarterback throughout his youth but developed into a big-play receiver last season. Bauman primarily served as Cavanaugh’s backup and Gee started in the secondary while also producing 114 receiving yards. While one player may ultimately take most of the snaps, each player is versatile enough that Loyalsock may utilize them all in different quarterbacking situations.
Whoever is throwing the ball will have one of the area’s most explosive receiving groups with which to work. Glunk, JerVal Weeks-Shuler and Naz Smith all caught at least 10 passes and averaged more than 15 yards per catch in seven games. Glunk and Weeks-Shuler had huge games late in the year and Smith caught three touchdowns in a key win against Bloomsburg. All three were starting for the first time as well and now are a year stronger and more well-rounded. Ditto for Jalen Andrews, another exciting receiver who could make a strong impact.
Junior running back Davion Hill missed last season with a leg injury but has drawn Division I interest and topped 1,000 yards as a freshman. Clay Vogel and Will Burdett were members of Loyalsock’s state qualifying 400 relay team and are other running backs who potentially can churn out the yards and rip off long runs.
The big question is centered up front as Loyalsock must replace several starting linemen. Van Fleet, though, is excited about the line’s potential and looks at it as reloading instead of rebuilding that unit. Having Tyrone Bolton back provides a big plus. He showed plenty of promise in three games last year on both sides of the ball.
“We’re excited about some of the individuals we have coming back from injury and the guys working to step into place of the starters,” Van Fleet said. “We don’t just try to build a team, but continue to try and build a program and it’s next man up. We think we can be strong in that area.”
Bolton also could play a vital role along the defensive line as well as Dominic Cellini who started late in his sophomore season a year ago. Junior and sophomore linebackers Gavin Rice and Logan Bastian both shined while starting for the first time last season and Nick Barone was off to a strong start before injuries derailed his season. Cy Cavanaugh also excelled in his first starting action, averaging 4.6 tackles per game.
Loyalsock is most experienced defensively in the secondary. Glunk developed into one of the area’s top cornerbacks and Smith and Burdett each intercepted passes last season.
The Lancers open the season with home games against Bloomsburg and Shikellamy. Those games are part of a demanding early-season schedule which also includes games against last year’s District 4 Class AAA finalists, Danville and Montoursville. The tougher the challenge, though, the more this team seems to like it.
“They’re ready to go. They’re a very focused group of individuals who are gunning to do big things which is exciting for us,” Van Fleet said. “Because they’ve been under pressure before and performed well under it in whatever sport they’ve played we know they have it in them to step forward.”
Loyalsock Players to Watch
Logan Bastian, LB/WR:
Rian Glunk, DB/WR:
Gavin Rice, LB/RB:
JerVal Weeks-Shuler, WR/DL:
–by CHRIS MASSE
Loyalsock 55, Hughesville 18
Loyalsock 20, Southern Columbia 50
Loyalsock 26, Bloomsburg 20
Loyalsock 52, Warrior Run 18
Loyalsock 12, Montoursville 23
Loyalsock 21, Lewisburg 14
District 4 Class AAA Semifinals
No. 4 Loyalsock 28, No. 1 Montoursville 57
Sept. 10–at Southern Columbia
Sept. 24–at Montoursville
Oct. 8–at Lewisburg
Oct. 15–Mount Carmel
Oct. 22–at Hughesville
Oct. 29–at Warrior Run