After Chambersburg handled York High in a scrimmage a couple of weeks ago, Trojan coach Mark Saunders was shaking hands with the crew of officials when one of them said to him, "That was one of the most exciting, enthusiastic Chambersburg teams I've seen for a while."
That didn't surprise Saunders, who has seen his team show those characteristics throughout preseason practice.
Now the trick is to turn those intangibles into wins.
The Trojans are coming off a 2-8 season, the first under Saunders, and the coach has been doing everything he can think of to turn things around.
"We're better now than we were last year from a team standpoint," Saunders said, "and I believe from a talent standpoint, too. But we're young."
On a roster of 70, only 14 players are seniors. And only seven of them are projected to be in the starting lineup Friday when Chambersburg hosts Franklin County rival Greencastle-Antrim at 7 p.m.
With a strong junior class and plenty of promising sophomores, including as many as four who may start tomorrow, you might say that next year could be the Trojans' year.
You might be right, but that's not the way Saunders and the team are playing it.
"We're not going to have to wait long for a winner," Saunders said. "These kids need to see the rewards now for all the work they've put in. If we play to our capabilities, we will have some success this year. This is a really good group of kids."
For Chambersburg to better last year's record, the improvement must come on the
defensive side of the ball.
While the offense put up a respectable average of 21 points per game last year and never scored fewer than 13, the defense allowed 32 points per game and gave up 16 scoring plays of 25 yards or longer.
For that reason, the Trojans have changed their thinking. They intend to attack their opponents instead of just reacting.
"We're going to blitz people coming off the bus," Saunders said. "We seem to have good chemistry on defense and I think it's because the kids like playing an attacking-style defense."
Chambersburg returns five starters on "D," including all four linebackers, but some personnel changes were made to create a better fit for some.
Taylor Tolbert moved from safety to outside linebacker, Tucker Spangler switched from outside to inside linebacker, Hunter Russell jumped from end to tackle and Tyler Seibert moved from center to nose guard.
"We did some things we felt we needed to do to help the defense," Saunders said. "We want to put some aggressive players where they can play best."
The line will include Russell and returner Jake Blevins at end and Russell and Seibert inside. Tolbert and Aaron Harshman set up at outside 'backer and Spangler and Spencer Ebersole anchor the middle.
The backfield will include Jamal Pickett at safety and Jonathan Hopple and Darren Shoop at cornerback.
Saunders said, "I think we've got some guys who are ballhawks in the secondary. But any good defense has to stop the run. We have to get everybody to the ball and show hustle and effort. We didn't play hard enough last year and we didn't tackle well, either. We've put a special emphasis on that this year.
"We have to be able to get off the field on third down."
On offense, Chambersburg has plenty of talent returning at the skill positions. But the Trojans also have a brand-new line and that can spell trouble in the rough-and-tumble Mid Penn Commonwealth Division.
Saunders said, "On paper, that looks like a problem. But these kids have come up together and there is some talent there."
And some decent size. Blevins (6-foot-3, 210 pounds) steps in at tight end, Cody Parks (6-4, 215) is at right tackle, Avery McCown (5-8, 210) plays right guard, Kainen Marks (6-0, 240) is the center, Andrew Bock (6-0, 230) is at left guard and Aaron Reese (6-6, 280) plays left tackle.
Pickett returns at halfback after a promising freshman season (52 carries, 368 yards, 7 touchdowns) in which he missed three games with a knee injury. Harshman (13-79) and speedster Jordan Brown will also get carries.
Ebersole (27-57, 3 TDs) is likely to start at fullback, with backup help from Dontez King (58-182, 2 TDs) and transfer Kevin Hoffman.
The receiving corps includes returner Jesse Bushman (12 catches, 159 yards, 1 TD), Kellen Williams (2-22) and Tolbert. King (8-91), Pickett (6-68) and Tyler Williams (10-89) can catch the ball out of the backfield.
Saunders said, "The receivers are very talented kids - I'd put them up against any receiving group in our conference. They give us a chance to open up the offense if we get good quarterback play."
And there's the big kicker. Who will be The Man at quarterback?
There is experience - Connor McCoy and Matt Harbaugh split time last year with similar numbers. McCoy hit on 39 of 89 passes for 321 yards, four TDs and six interceptions, and he ran for 304 yards and three scores. Harbaugh completed 43 of 87 for 546 yards, five TDs and three picks, and picked up 208 on the ground.
There is also potential in two sophomores - Hopple appears to be a natural leader and Ryan Martin has good size (6-3, 180).
Saunders said, "Harbaugh has been hurt and for now, McCoy is the guy. But I wouldn't hesitate to put Hopple in."
Despite the record last year, Saunders saw plenty of good things. He wants that trend to continue.
"Our theme this year is Reconstructing a Winner," he said, "and it's been fun watching the kids develop."
They will soon know how far they've come.
Ed Gotwals can be reached at 262-4755 and email@example.com.
Trojans at a glance
Coach: Mark Saunders, second year.
Last year: 2-8 (1-5 Mid Penn Commonwealth Division).
Starters lost: C.J. Johnson (P.O. first team); Colby Perry (P.O. first team); Seth Stine; Freddy Newton; Chad Flood; Harold Gelsinger; Zach Boone; Derek Burkhard; Caleb Filson.
Returning starters: Connor McCoy (jr., QB, 6-2, 185); Matt Harbaugh (sr., QB/P, 6-2, 190, Mid Penn Commonwealth second team punter); Jamal Pickett (so., HB/S, 5-10, 175); Spencer Ebersole (sr., FB/ILB, 5-7, 185); Jesse Bushman (sr., WR, 5-9, 160); Jacob Blevins (sr., TE/DE, 6-3, 210); Taylor Tolbert (jr., WR/OLB, 6-0, 185); Aaron Harshman (sr., HB/OLB, 5-8, 160); Tucker Spangler (sr., FB/ILB, 5-10, 185).
Other top players: Aaron Reese (jr., LT/DL, 6-6, 280); Andrew Bock (so., LG/DL, 6-0, 230); Kainen Marks (jr., C/DL, 6-0, 240); Avery McCown (jr., RG/DE, 5-8, 210); Cody Parks (jr., 6-4, 215); Tyler Seibert (sr., NG/OL, 5-8, 250); Hunter Russell (jr., DT/OL, 5-10, 210); Jonathan Hopple (so., CB/QB, 5-10, 150); Darren Shoop (sr., CB/WR, 5-8, 160); Aaron Powell (sr., PK, 6-1, 175); Dontez King (jr., FB/LB, 5-10, 200); Kellen Williams (jr., WR/DB, 5-11, 180); Tyler Williams (sr., RB/LB, 5-8, 180); Jordan Brown (so., RB/DB, 5-9, 160).
Predicted record: 4-6.
Stadium: Trojan Stadium
Location: At the high school, along McKinley Street.
Ticket prices: Reserved tickets $5.50. For general admission, adults cost $5, senior citizens and students cost $3.
Sept. 2 H Greencastle 7:00
Sept. 9 A Waynesboro 7:30
Sept. 16 A Gettysburg 7:00
Sept. 23 A Central Dauphin East 7:00
Sept. 30 H Cumberland Valley 7:00
Oct. 8 H Harrisburg 1:00
Oct. 14 A Carlisle 7:00
Oct. 21 A State College 7:00
Oct. 28 H Cedar Cliff (HC) 7:00
Nov. 4 H Central Dauphin 7:00
Last Year (2-8)
L 20-17 Greencastle-Antrim
W 49-0 Waynesboro
L 28-21 Gettysburg
L 37-21 Central Dauphin East
L 42-13 Cumberland Valley
L 66-24 Harrisburg
W 23-6 Carlisle
L 39-14 State College
L 39-21 Cedar Cliff
L 42-16 Central Dauphin