By COLIN STEVENS
Speaking with members of James Buchanan's football team, you wouldn't believe they went 1-9 a year ago.
There is a positive tone in everything they say, and in the way they carry themselves on the football field.
After laying some ground work over his first three seasons, Rockets coach Mark Yurek believes his team will surprise people this year.
"We have the potential to be the best team that James Buchanan has had in decades," he said. "The first thing we need to do is shoot for that second and third win and go from there."
It's that mentality that has carried over to his players and has them confident about the upcoming season.
The biggest advantage the Rockets have heading into this season is continuity. Only two significant contributors from last year graduated - Dale Nesbitt and Robert Lee - leaving Yurek with experienced players who know what their coach expects of them.
That continuity has led to better practice habits and a stronger sense of team unity.
Senior quarterback Coy Quivers has seen increased dedication from his teammates, especially in the time spent before practice.
"We're definitely focused this year," said Quivers, who was a P.O. second team all-star last year. "The wide receivers have a jug machine, they all get on that in the morning. Quarterbacks are throwing into the net, running backs are working on footwork even before practice starts so we're ready when the whistle blows."
Quivers and senior safety John Sollenberger also
noted a difference in the camaraderie between the players during practices. Last year, arguments often came up during practices that held the team back from working as a unit. This year, the team is more like a family.
"The attitudes of all the players are so much more confident," Sollenberger said. "Last year, we'd talk each other down and yell at each other when we kept doing stuff wrong. Now we're picking each other up and telling each other what we can do to make ourselves better and fix things."
Quivers will lead the Rockets on offense. The 6-foot-3 senior is a threat with his legs and with his arm. Yurek says Quivers runs a sub 4.4-second 40-yard sprint and also possesses the ability to throw the ball 60 yards downfield.
The Rockets, who run a version of the spread, relied heavily on the pass last season while scoring 171 points over 10 games. Seventy of those points came in a Week 2 shutout against Carson Long.
The Rockets' offense was held back by not having a reliable No. 1 running back. That will change this year as sophomore Brady Hornbaker steps into the starting role.
Hornbaker (5-foot-11, 190 pounds), who can bench 300 pounds and runs a 4.4-second 40-yard dash, will help the Rockets be a more balanced attack than last year.
"You've got to be a fool to not give him the football," Yurek said.
Quivers said Hornbaker will play a critical role for the offense.
"What we're trying to do is get up by a score or two and just run the ball," Quivers said. "Before we really didn't have a running game - that always hurt us - so we'd be passing the ball a lot and teams would be able to pick up on it. Now we can mix up the tempo. We can go fast or slow it down if we have to."
The continuity along the line also helps. Three seniors return from last year's squad as starters while two juniors are taking on starting positions.
Seniors Will Resh, Seth McCullough and Zach Glass will anchor the line and Sollenberger is confident they will have strong seasons.
"They're probably some of the toughest guys on our team," he said. "They work the hardest, too."
The Rockets are using most of the same schematics defensively as they did a year ago when they allowed an average of 45 points a game. Yurek said a few new players and another year in the weight room will help his players, but also the attitude his players bring to the field.
"They don't accept missing a tackle. They don't accept getting beat over the top," he said. "A good team is one that polices itself. You coach, then they discipline themselves and set the standards themselves. There's the big difference right now."
People may doubt significant improvement from the Rockets, who have won only two games since Yurek took over. But the Rockets aren't worried about what outsiders are saying; they're more concentrated on what their teammates think.
"We've got the talent to do it this year," Quivers said. "If we just stick together and play as a family we should be all right."
Colin Stevens can be reached at email@example.com and 262-4819.
Stadium: Rocket Stadium
Location: Between the high school and the middle school along Pa. 75 in Mercersburg
Ticket prices: $4 for adults and $2 for students.
Sept. 3 A Southside Acad., Md. 12:00
Sept. 16 A Middletown 7:00
Sept. 23 A Gettysburg 7:00
Sept. 30 H Shippensburg 7:00
Oct. 7 H Northern 7:00
Oct. 14 A Greencastle-Antrim 7:30
Oct. 21 H Big Spring 7:00
Oct. 28 A West Perry 7:00
Nov. 4 H Waynesboro 7:00
Last Year (1-9)
L 46-20 Reading C.C.
W 70-0 Carson Long
L 58-18 Middletown
L 43-6 Gettysburg
L 55-6 Shippensburg
L 61-6 Northern
L 74-6 Greencastle-Antrim
L 53-7 Big Spring
L 28-6 West Perry
L 32-26 Waynesboro
Rockets at a glance
Coach: Mark Yurek, fourth season, 2-27 (.069).
Last year: 1-9 (0-7 Mid Penn Conference).
Starters lost: Dale Nesbitt; Robert Lee (P.O. first team).
Returning starters: Coy Quivers (sr., QB/FS, 6-3, 190, P.O. second team); Zane Clevenger (sr., WR/CB, 5-7, 150); Dustin Couch (sr., C/LB, 5-8, 220); Zach Glass (T/DT, 5-11, 260); Seth McCullugh (sr., OL/DL, 6-0, 210); Will Resh (sr., OL/DL, 6-0, 200); John Sollenberger (sr., SS/WR, 5-8, 185); Dylan McKissick (sr., WR, 5-8, 160).
Other top players: Brady Horbaker (so., RB/LB, 5-11, 190); Zachary Todd (jr., WR/FS, 6-5, 180); Marcus Myers (jr., OL/DL, 5-11, 225).
Predicted record: 2-8.