It should be a time of turmoil for the Lampeter-Strasburg Pioneers.
Having to replace eight starters on offense and defense, including a four-year starter at quarterback, all while competing as the smallest school in the crazy talented Section Two?
Yet, just as in all of head coach John Manion’s 19 years in charge, the wagon train just keeps on moving and the western skies beckon, the Pioneers are right where they need to be, and, oh yea, the players are lining-up three section titles in a row.
Three in a row, really?
“It’s the last thing from my mind,” said Manion, nonchalant as ever. “As soon as the offseason started we told them it’s something they can strive for, we want it to be on their mind, because we don’t want them thinking anything but potential champions.
“These seniors,” Manion continued, “they were a bigger part of our success than I think people may have given them credit for last year.”
The latter comment is perhaps in response to a certain media-centered fallacy, that the Pioneers owe all their success to recently-graduated quarterback Bear Shank.
No doubt, Shank had an “ ‘I’m going to carry on my back’ personality,” according to Manion, a mantle the coach hopes members of his current squad will eventually embrace.
Receiver Chad Gaudino reaffirmed that notion, saying “Bear was a great player, but we’re still one team. … He was a great leader but all that requires with him gone is just for other people to step up.”
Hence, on Media Day, Manion had with him seniors Joey Dreer, Shane Lawler, and Gaudino, all de facto examples of what will continue to make Lampeter-Strasburg a threat this season.
Lawler, a running back, surpassed 1,100 offensive yards in 2015, including 28 receptions. Gaudino hauled-in 32 receptions and totaled eight touchdowns.
And Dreer feels “we’re going to be really strong (at linebacker) this year,” as he, Cody Reiff, Caleb Lopez and Jeff Elser will lead a dynamic core in the defensive middle despite the loss of Shank at outside back.
Lopez, who can bounce between strong safety and outside backer, led the team with 108 tackles a year ago. Gaudino tied for the team-lead with three interceptions.
The key, according to Manion, is that his players are eager to adapt to whatever role is asked of them.
“I feel like whatever we’re put up to we can do it,” said Lawler, regarding his and Gaudino’s all-purpose skills. “Whether it be running the ball or catching the ball I feel like we’re both confident in our abilities.”
While the quarterback battle will come down to senior Justin Edwards (2-for-2, 64 yards, TD in 2015) or junior Todd Shelley, Manion is most interested in the outcome at offensive tackle.
“With so many first-year players, we’re looking forward to the first scrimmage to see how they respond,” said the coach. “I think it’s the kind of team if we get strong quick we can get better week to week than a lot of teams that are relying on returning players.”
The question remains whether Lampeter-Strasburg will return to the top in 2016, let alone whether being the lone Class 4A school among a bevy of 5A schools will do the program any favors.
“We’ve always felt like this is the kind of program that can go either direction (play up or down),” Manion said. “Yea, I doubt anybody is going to look at what we lost and say that we’re a front-runner, but we feel that way and that’s all that matters.”