York, PA - The calendar had barely flipped to 2011 -- and the postseason hype had barely died down -- when Pat Conrad delivered a message to his Red Lion football team.
"The first thing I told the kids when we came back (from winter break) on Jan. 3 was '2010 is over,'" Conrad said last month.
But with one team meeting, the tone was set. New team, new season.
The Lions have taken that to heart, too. Even if the impressions left by last season's visit to Hersheypark Stadium still drive them.
"Getting there is a great feeling," quarterback Tanner Klinefelter said. "We want to get there every year. That's the goal."
Filling the void: Graduation sapped Red Lion of several
difference-makers, none more vital than current Maryland freshman Andrew Zeller. The 6-foot-5, 290-pounder anchored both the Lions' offensive and defensive lines.
This year, Conrad said he has "seven or eight" offensive linemen he feels he can rely on during games. The key will be how that group meshes together.
"We're not as big as last year," senior lineman Nick Kocman said, "but this year we have a quicker team. We have that chemistry that we know what each other is doing."
Starting receivers Branden Kessler and Joe Baublitz graduated, as did leading rusher Jeremy Knaub. Kessler and Knaub also were defensive stalwarts.
Varsity letters: Klinefelter returns after a brilliant junior season in which he led the YAIAA in both completion percentage (61.9) and touchdown-to-interception ratio (22-5).
"The biggest difference is now that I'm a senior, I have to take charge," said Klinefelter, one of the team's captains. "Last year, I was the quarterback, and I helped carry the team, but I didn't really lead."
Senior Erik Althoff gives Klinefelter an experienced target at receiver and also will be the team's top cornerback.
On the defensive line, seniors David Telp (who has received a handful of Division I offers), Brooks Arnold and Austin Miller give Red Lion a strong foundation.
New face in the crowd: After several cameos as a change-of-pace back last season, Jason Milton will slide into the starting tailback slot. Already, Conrad has given his speedy junior a strong endorsement.
"I think the biggest surprise is going to be in the backfield, the running game and the improvements you see there," the coach said. "Jason kind of brings a new dimension. He can take it to the end zone on any given play."
Milton averaged 8.8 yards per carry last season, racking up 298 yards on just 34 touches.
Mark your calendar: The Lions cannot seem to get away from Cumberland Valley. Red Lion once again opens against the Eagles, the same team it lost to in the district title game, 35-7, last season.
No matchup, however, holds more sway than the Lions' annual season-ending, backyard showdown with Dallastown. This year's game returns to a newly renovated Horn Field after three seasons.
Defensive tackle/offensive guard
Who is one player on your team you would not want to face? Mike Romano. He is an offensive tackle. He is a big guy, real strong player. We have been best friends for a while. We are really equally matched. Sometimes I win, and sometimes he wins. I want to win every time.
What practice drill do you hate the most? As a bigger guy I would probably say conditioning, but I would probably say Indian drills because that is the longest one we have to do. We do it rarely, but when we do, it is hard.
Which NFL player would you compare yourself with? I would like to compare myself to a Casey Hampton. Some player on the Steelers team, because I am a Steelers fan so I consider myself a Casey Hampton type. Obviously I am not as big as he is, but I am like a nose guy and defensive tackle that is supposed to clog up the hole and cause some damage.
What is your favorite pregame music? Some sort of upbeat stuff, whether it is Eminem or Fort Minor. Something that relates to football, is up-beat that is going to get you ready for the game and the season.
Do you have a nickname? How did you get it? I do, but it is not newspaper appropriate.
What is your favorite move on the field? Probably the rip technique.
What is the best thing about playing football? That Friday night. Going out, your blood is rushing, and your adrenaline is pumping. It is a feeling that I can't describe in words. It's just a feeling that you love everyday, and you have it, and don't want it to go away.
Related· 2010 preview: 'Last year was a bit disappointing'