At YAIAA media day earlier this month, West York coach Ron Miller was asked if this year's Bulldogs team was his most experienced ever.
Miller did not hesitate. "Yes," he said. "By far."
How experienced? West York's 2012 roster will feature 24 seniors. In his previous six seasons, Miller has never had more than 16.
Needless to say, there is no shortage of lofty expectations seeping out of the Bulldogs' locker room this season. That has typically been the case during Miller's tenure, which has featured five YAIAA Division II titles and a District 3 Class AAA crown. Last season, West York made its third district semifinal appearance in four years.
But that 2011 group relied largely on talented underclassmen light on big-game experience. At times -- like in a season-ending, 24-13 loss to Lampeter-Strasburg -- that youth showed.
Now, the Bulldogs are hoping the lessons of last season will fuel them to even greater heights this year.
"Knowing what you're doing when there's 10,000 people in the stands and you need a stop or you need a first down -- that's probably going to be the biggest thing," West York senior Brandon Kinneman said. "We've already experienced the pressure of the moment."
Kinneman will take over at quarterback this season in place of the graduated Kaden Hepler, and Miller believes he'll continue West York's trend of strong play under center. Kinneman will be protected by a seasoned offensive line, which returns four full-time starters and a fifth part-time starter.
That group will be anchored by four-year starting center Brody Kern, a Delaware commit.
"Pretty much, I consider us to have five returning starters," Kern said.
The Bulldogs will have to replace safety Jerrin Toomey, who finished his career as the school's all-time leading tackler. He also was the team's leading receiver last fall.
But you can bet the Bulldogs have another game circled -- an Oct. 12 home date with Dover, which last year handed West York just its third divisional loss of Miller's tenure.
Intangibles: Miller felt his team's inexperience showed up at times last year. He referenced specifically that loss to Dover.
"They got over there, and there's cars going up the street in both directions. There's tailgaters. There's music blasting," Miller said. "And for me, it was like, 'We'll be OK.' But I think for some of them, it was their first game like that, and they got tight."
This year, with 17 returning starters and that massive group of seniors back, West York should have no such issues.
Bottom line: Kern put the Bulldogs' expectations in simple terms at YAIAA media day. "The district championship is always our goal, every single year, no matter what," he said.
If West York can continue its progression from last season, a trip to Hershey is certainly within reach.
What do you like about playing line? I just love hitting people. It's definitely why I love playing offensive line. I love putting people on their back and pancaking them. It's the best feeling in the world.
Do you prefer offense or defensive line? I like offense more. It's one-on-one, you and the guy in front of you. Who is the bigger, stronger man? More powerful?
Do you have a favorite sports moment in your career? My freshman year, coming back and beating Conestoga Valley. We were in double overtime and went for two and won the game. It was the best feeling in the world. The loudest I've ever heard our stadium. It was just awesome.
What is your most embarrassing sports moment? We were in practice one time, going against a kid who hadn't played football a lot. I was playing center, and he was playing defensive tackle. I tripped and fell, and the kid fell on top of me, so it looked like he pancaked me. So everyone just said he pancaked me. It went on for like three weeks where I couldn't even say anything without people saying he pancaked me.
Who has the best nickname on the team? Probably Eli Ziggler. I think it was last year. He was a first year player and got his helmet. His ear pads were real big, so we called him Headphones. They were these big black ear pads in there, and it looked like he had headphones on inside his helmet, and it just stuck. We still call him headphones now.
Biggest inspiration? My brother (Zak Kern). I looked up to him all my life. He played high school football. He is six years older than me. ... Without him I would have never pursued football.
What is the one thing you do that drives your mom or dad crazy? I don't clean my room. When my mom washes our clothes she brings them back up and lays them on our floor. I am supposed to put them away in the drawers. That doesn't really happen a lot. So I just create a pathway where I can walk. She can't even walk in there anymore. She gets so mad at me.
Who is the toughest to challenge at practice? Janssen Nelson. He is not a real big guy. He is not a real strong and powerful guy, but he is so quick with his hands on defense. He is so quick at swimming people and throwing the rip and his little different moves he throws is tough to block on one-on-ones.
|8/31||at Central York||7 p.m.|
|9/14||Spring Grove||7 p.m.|
|9/21||Red Lion||7 p.m.|
|9/28||at William Penn||7 p.m.|
|10/5||at Susquehannock||7 p.m.|
|10/20||at Kennard-Dale||1 p.m.|
|10/26||at Northeastern||7 p.m.|
|11/2||New Oxford||7 p.m.|