Looking back, he seemed an unlikely savior.
When he was handed Red Lion's starting quarterback job, two years and 19 games ago, Tanner Klinefelter was a little-known sophomore, buried on the depth chart and faced with what felt like an early career crossroads. His path to the quarterback position seemed to be road-blocked. He'd spoken with his coach about changing positions.
He wondered when -- and where -- his chance might finally come.
Then, with little warning, the offense was his. Klinefelter was tossed into the labyrinth of varsity football -- and charged with helping mend a fractured football team.
It would have been a big task for anybody, let alone a soft-spoken sophomore. But what happened next provides a window into how this backup turned himself into the YAIAA's best quarterback.
Today he cuts a cocksure figure. Klinefelter's tangible gifts are obvious. He has the size, the sturdy, 6-foot-2 frame. His right arm, while not elite, possesses the strength to make almost any throw this level of football demands.
But ask coaches about Klinefelter, and they rarely mention the physical.
"He doesn't ever seem to get rattled," Dallastown coach Kevin Myers said. "No matter how much pressure you're bringing."
"He walks into the huddle, and he's calm," said former Lions offensive coordinator Brian Freed, now the head coach at York Suburban. "That breeds confidence."
Poise seems to be the buzzword with Klinefelter. Poise in the huddle. Poise in the pocket. Poise in the face of adversity.
Which brings us back to that sophomore season.
Klinefelter entered the year stuck behind then-fellow sophomore Chad Kelly, a gifted passer with an electric skill set. (Kelly, now a senior at St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute in Buffalo, N.Y., recently issued a verbal commitment to Clemson.) That summer, Klinefelter approached Lions coach Pat Conrad about a position switch. He spent the first half of that season practicing at wide receiver.
"There was a lot of doubt," Klinefelter said after a recent practice. "I talked to my parents a bunch of times. I was like 'I'll never see the field.'"
Then it all changed. Kelly was suspended for undisclosed reasons before Red Lion's Week 6 game against Dover. (He was later removed from the team.) Klinefelter was named the starter.
The gangly sophomore -- the kid coaches call "quiet," who readily admits, "I'm not a vocal man" -- was tossed into the starring role of a team in turmoil. Klinefelter remembers sitting in Red Lion's gym before his first start, his stomach turning like a cement mixer.
But if his emotions were roiling, his play remained composed. He threw three touchdowns in that game. Three weeks later, he led a fourth-quarter comeback to stun eventual Division I champion Central York.
But something else happened along the way: Klinefelter's sedate, placid style provided a perfect counterweight to Red Lion's unrest.
"He was exactly what he had to be," Conrad said. "He was the perfect personality match for the circumstances."
Therein lies Klinefelter's essence as a quarterback, his coaches say. It's not simply the arm strength or his laser-sight accuracy. It's his seemingly hard-wired ability to navigate the landmines a football season offers -- whether they be blitz schemes or times of tumult.
With a full offseason to grow, Klinefelter's production spiked last fall. He led the YAIAA in completion percentage (61.9 percent) and touchdown-to-interception rate (22-5) and ranked second in passing yards (1,983).
Klinefelter helped Red Lion rebound from early deficits in playoff wins against J.P. McCaskey and rival Dallastown. Amidst the gloom of his team's 35-7 loss to Cumberland Valley in the District 3 Class AAAA title game, he still completed 16-of-21 passes for 183 yards.
Klinefelter hopes to play college football somewhere next year, maybe for a Division II or Division I FCS school.
"I was always waiting for that game where things spiral down," Conrad said. "To his credit, he never had that."
Looking back, he might never have gotten a chance.
"That's the amazing thing about it," Freed said. "He could have sat in the shadows for four years. And we might not have known about Tanner Klinefelter.
"I'm glad I do."
So is Red Lion. Klinefelter represents its brightest beacon of optimism heading into this season. Graduation sapped the Lions of a large senior class. Klinefelter will be leaned on more this season, both as a driving force on the field and more assertive presence off it. That calm, head-down approach might have to be tweaked.
Klinefelter knows it. Two years and 19 starts later, he feels he's ready for just about anything.
"A lot of these quarterbacks are going to be in their first year starting," Klinefelter said. "Now that I've had a year and a half under my belt, I'm just much more confident."
Tailored to TannerWhen he took over as Red Lion's offensive coordinator before last season, Brian Freed decided to do some research. The coach studied the offensive statistics of each YAIAA Division I team from the previous five seasons.
After he'd crunched the numbers, Freed found that, in each season, the division's first- and second-place teams shared one offensive trait in common: They were always the division's top two teams in completion percentage.
"So we said, 'We're going to focus on completion percentage,'" said Freed, now the head coach at York Suburban. "We just harped it, harped it."
Sure enough, Klinefelter ended up leading the YAIAA in pass efficiency, completing 61.9 percent of his passes. That was a 17.9 percent improvement from Klinefelter's sophomore season.
"He bought into it," Freed said. "He figured it out."