York, PA - In the five seasons of the Ron Miller era, West York has become the closest thing the YAIAA has to a sure thing. The Bulldogs have won 49 games their last five campaigns, easily the most in the league in that span.
But as Miller's group has discovered, one ill-timed loss can turn any season sour.
Last fall, West York rolled into the District 3 Class AAA playoffs as a fourth seed, only to trip up against a powerful and suddenly healthy group from Cocalico. It was just the second time under Miller that West York failed to advance past the first round of districts.
Said Miller: "They know our goal is to get to Hersheypark."
Filling the void: West York has shown an uncanny ability to reload in areas cleaned out by graduation. This year will have to be no different.
Specifically, the Bulldogs' defense needs to mesh quickly. West York lost nearly all of its front eight players, including all four of its linebackers.
"That's where we got to grow up fast. Real fast," Miller said. "With our schedule being what it is, the competition we're going to be facing early on, we cannot go out and try to score 50 a game. We just can't."
West York has one big building block up front, in 6-foot-3, 276-pound junior Brody Kern. The secondary should be strong, led by three-year starter Jerrin Toomey at safety.
Varsity letters: If the defense needs seasoning, the offense figures to be explosive. Senior quarterback Kaden Hepler should be one of the league's top passers, after a junior year in which he ranked third in the YAIAA in passing yards (1,625) and touchdowns (18) and second in completion percentage (.559).
"It's definitely different knowing that you have a season under your belt," Hepler said. "Knowing what you have to do to win Friday nights, knowing what you have to do to prepare. It's definitely different, more confident than last year."
Hepler should have plenty of help. Toomey provides an experienced target at receiver, and center Kern anchors what should be a reliable offensive line.
What's more, Miller extolled the maturity of his senior class, a quality he feels is vital to reverse the disappointment of last November.
"We lost a few heartbreaking games last year, and I think that's because we weren't as disciplined," Miller said. "And I don't have any concerns with that."
New face in the crowd: Tailback has been a prolific position for West York in recent years, occupied by game-changing talents such as Brandon Real and Corey Harris.
This year, it's Brock Snellbaker's turn to step in.
The junior flashed promise in limited duty last fall, piling up 342 yards and a 5.03 per-carry average. Hepler's right arm is good enough to carry the Bulldogs, but he'll need Snellbaker and others for balance.
Mark your calendar: West York's schedule is once again front-loaded, with its first five games all coming against Class AAAA competition.
Still, the Bulldogs' biggest matchup might not come until Week 7. That's when West York visits rival Dover, the team that figures to pose the biggest challenge to the Bulldogs' search for a fifth straight YAIAA Division II title.
Wide receiver/free safety
Who is one player on your team you would not want to face? Brody Kern. He is a center, defensive end and defensive tackle.
What practice drill do you hate the most? Any tackling drills.
Which NFL player would you compare yourself with? Wes Welker, just because we are the same size.
What is your favorite pregame music? "Till I Collapse" by Eminem.
Do you have a nickname? How did you get it? They have been calling me Jerry since I was a sophomore. Alex George, the quarterback when I was a sophomore, just gave it to me.
What is your favorite move on the field? The B-button (from Xbox).
What is the best thing about playing football? Friday nights and seeing all the people come out, and just winning.
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