The 2015 season was a good one for the Palmyra football team. The Cougars jetted to a 6-0 start, finished 7-4 and qualified for the District Three playoffs for the first time since 2011.
All of that, however, does Palmyra no good as a new season beckons. But it certainly does it no harm, either.
As the 2016 campaign draws ever closer, the Cougars are looking to build off of the successes of a season ago with an eye toward maybe even bettering them.
"I think anytime you have a successful season where you make the playoffs, that gives you a lot of momentum into the next year," said Palmyra coach Chris Pope, following a recent practice. "Looking back, I think that’s the biggest thing. The year before, we went .500 and kinda felt like we got back on track and that provides momentum within a program. The goal is to have successful campaigns year after year, and now the goal is to get back to the playoffs. We’ll have to see how that goes. Hopefully we’re good enough to get in there."
There is ample reason to believe that the Cougars are good enough to get back to the postseason. Though a number of key contributors to the 2015 accomplishments have since graduated, a strong core returns, led by senior running backs Alon Rhette and Carl Reigle, new starting quarterback Peter Robertson - a standout receiver a season ago - and tight end/defensive Mason Cooper.
Rhette is the Cougars' big gun - coming off a 1,140-yard, 12-touchdown junior season - but he's far from the only talented returnee.
"We have a lot of our skill guys coming back, which is obviously really great, "Pope said. "We lost some linemen, but I feel we have some size there that got a little time last year, and I feel like they’ve come along. We’ve still got a lot of work, but I think they’re jelling."
The skill guy with a lot of eyes on him early on will be Robertson, as he looks to transition from receiver to QB.
"The big thing is (2015 starting QB) Tyler Gallagher moved on and we’re getting a quarterback in there who can be efficient and replace him, and I think we’re well on the way to doing that," Pope said.
"He’s a really good athlete," Pope said of Robertson. "He was one of our No. 1 receivers last year, and the reason being he’s such a good athlete. Throughout the summer, we’ve had several guys working there and he’s kind of shown that he’s the guy. He’s been doing a pretty good job there. It’s about getting him the reps he needs so he can take his athleticism and do what he needs to do there."
Robertson certainly won't have to do it himself as he leads the offense along with Rhette, Reigle and Cooper.
Doing the heavy lifting up front will be senior guard Shane Gregris, junior guard Braden Barker, junior center Xavier Vasquuez, junior tackle Kris Day and sophomore tackle Zach Speece, while the receiving corps will be manned by senior Nate Hawkins, sophomores Kyle Wasilewski and Sean Carter, as well as Braden Vernet, who's returning to football after not playing the sport last season.
Defensively, Cooper, Rhette at linebacker and Reigle in the secondary will be the anchors, along with linebacker Devon Sosnoski, who'll also see action at running back.
Robertson will help out in the secondary, as will Hawkins and sophomore Grant Haus, and juniors Zach Quinn and Sean Reedy will join Rhette and Sosnoski in the linebacking corps.
On the line, Gregris, Vasquez and Tyler Ebling will help Cooper hold things down.
"I think we have to obviously be able to move the football, so up front is gonna be important," Pope said when asked for areas of concern. "And I think a key thing is how are we going to be defensively. We lost a couple linebackers, but I feel good there."
The Cougars will have to come together early, with three straight road games to open 2015, including a titanic season opener at Camp Hill, which handed Palmyra its first loss last season.
"It is what it is," Pope said with a laugh of the early schedule. "If we could get a home game in there that’d be nice. Camp Hill, I think our kids are fired up about that. That was a tight game last year, and they’re a quality opponent. I think it’s created some excitement for the first game, which is always kinda nice. People are up for it. It’ll be interesting."
Aug. 26 — at Camp Hill 7, p.m.
Sept. 2 - at West Perry, 7 p.m.
Sept. 9 — at Elco 7, p.m.
Sept. 16 — Donegal, 7 p.m.
Sept. 23 — bye
Sept. 30 — Boiling Springs 7, p.m.
Oct. 7 — at Middletown, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14 — Steel-High, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 21 — at East Pennsboro, 7 p.m.
Oct. 28 — Trinity, 7 p.m.
Nov. 4 — Milton Hershey, 7 p.m.
W // East Pennsboro // 27-6
W // Elco // 30-22
W // Donegal // 31-0
W // Trinity // 49-23
W // Steel-High // 17-6
W // Boiling Springs // 19-0
L // Camp Hill // 28-24
L // Middletown // 49-13
L // Milton Hershey // 28-7
W // West Perry // 42-23
L // Lampeter-Strasburg // 41-20