The L-L guys break down the “big boys” in Section One heading into the 2016 football season. Video by John Buffone
The most compelling reason for the excitement of a new season each and every year is the theory of starting with a clean slate. But for the Lebanon Cedars, call it a complete overhaul.
After yet another year to forget, the Cedars will not only start the season most notably back in Section One - as well as a new 5A school classification – but in a completely new direction.
Part of the new philosophy is a new offense and defense – but above all, the philosophy is to do anything to bring the program back as a consistent contender.
“You can’t survive by always riding a roller coaster. We did some soul searching and we’ve uprooted the whole program,” said Lebanon coach Gerry Yonchiuk. “I feel like I’m in a new school.”
Once the decision to start the overhaul came about, the No. 1 priority for Yonchiuk was to find multiple ways to build team chemistry and unity.
And to start off the season, Yonchiuk adopted the “going away for training camp” philosophy, as his team embarked on a five-day trip to the Poconos.
“The theme is like ‘Remember the Titans’ when they came from Virginia. It’ll just be our team for bonding,” Yonchiuk said. “The National Guard has representatives who will come in to talk to the kids about careers and what it’s like to play for one another.”
Once the Cedars return from their trip, they'll work on installing a new hybrid, short pistol offense.
“Our hand will be in the ground up front in the three-point stance, and we’ll get off the ball and hit you. We had been a finesse team,” Yonchiuk said. “But we’re not just going to be running every down. There’s still some components from our passing game.”
On top of that, Lebanon is installing a new 3-4 defense, which also includes Nicholas Bradley and Josh Kauffman at linebacker, Louis Aquino-Rios, and Keon Swaby.
But most importantly, everyone is buying in.
“Everything is working out at practice. Everyone is remembering the plays better. Since it’s all brand new, everyone’s learning at the same speed,” said senior Philip Hillesheim, who’ll continue to be at wide receiver and defensive back.
And for the Cedar lineman, change is more than welcome, as two senior offensive linemen will look to help with installing some of the changes, especially in technique.
“I’m ready for it. I think it’s going to be fun. I like it better, honestly,” Trevor Armpriester said.
“I think we’ll be able to run the ball much more successfully. Plus, we all know what we’re capable of,” said Khalique Washington. “We know we can fire off the ball and hit. With the two-point stance, we had some guys who were bigger and weren’t getting off the ball fast and some had trouble in pass blocking. Just going for it, I think it will be easier for everyone to do.”
The new scheme also calls for a change under center, as Cody Kissinger will make the conversion to wide receiver for his final year in a Lebanon uniform. And it’s not even a bother to him whatsoever.
“He’s actually thrilled with the change since he doesn’t have to worry about that stuff anymore,” Yonchiuk said. “I don’t know if that’s been his natural position to play there, but because he’s such a competitor and good football player, he just does it. He’s still a leader. So that’s a good thing.”
This now brings a quarterback battle in camp between sophomore Zakee Sailsman, a transfer from Lancaster Catholic, and senior Julian Imm. Sailsman saw time at wide receiver last season, thus making the same transition as Kissinger did. Sailsman finished with 153 yards on 11 receptions, averaging just about 14 yards a catch, and a touchdown. Imm saw some time under center, finishing 8-of-15 for 77 yards and a touchdown, while also rushing for 25 yards on four attempts.
Yonchiuk sees the competition going down to the wire.
“Zakee brings a real athletic dimension and is extremely quick. He’s a good passer as well. Julian has worked his butt off the last few years, and has only been a quarterback the last two years,” Yonchiuk said. “It’s more of a challenge for him that way because he’s still learning the position. But he’s gotten so much stronger and grown a few inches. He can really throw the football, too, so it makes the competition greater, and that’s what we want.”
Scheme changes on the both sides of the ball might give opponents some potential challenges in preparing for the Cedars each week, especially in a new section, but Yonchiuk doesn’t really see it as so, especially as the season progresses.
“We already open up against teams that we’ve seen before,” he said. “But then by the time we get to section play, we’re in week four and everyone will have a pretty good idea of where the football team is going. It could give us an advantage maybe early in the season, but we still have to execute.”
And a big check mark to begin a new phase of Cedars football would be finally stopping the bleeding in the Cedar Bowl - Cedar Crest is first on the schedule for Lebanon, for yet another chance to end a now four-game losing streak. Even the public is taunting the Cedars.
“It’s to the point where I was shopping at Wal-Mart wearing a Cedars football shirt, and someone came up to me and said, ‘You should transfer to Cedar Crest because you guys are going to lose,'’’ Hillesheim said. “And I was just like, ‘Just come out to the game and watch us,’ and I told him my number, and I told him, ‘Watch me.’ So hopefully we can get the job done and get the win.”
Sept. 2 — Cedar Crest, 7 p.m.
Sept. 9 — at Ephrata, 7 p.m.
Sept. 16 — at Elizabethtown, 7 p.m.
Sept. 23 — Penn Manor, 7 p.m.
Sept. 30 — at Warwick, 7 p.m.
Oct. 7 — at Conestoga Valley, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14 — Wilson, 7 p.m.
Oct. 21 — McCaskey, 7 p.m.
Oct. 28 — at Manheim Township, 7 p.m.
Nov. 4 — Hempfield, 7 p.m.
L // Cedar Crest //41-7
*W // Northern Lebanon // 2-0
W // Elco // 20-19
L // Cocalico // 50-6
L // Manheim Central // 62-14
L // Solanco // 42-12
L // Lancaster Catholic // 41-27
L // Garden Spot // 47-0
L // Lampter-Strasburg // 62-21
L // Elizabethtown // 28-20
*Forfeited by Northern Lebanon