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Zach Miller and Teddy Feinberg talk about the upcoming season of YAIAA Division I football.

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Spring Grove upset rival South Western in the final week of the 2015 season to secure a district playoff spot in Kyle Sprenkle’s first season. Now, the Rockets look to build off that game.

The Rockets graduated multiple players who signed to continue playing football in college — most notably, all-star kicker Andrew Luckenbaugh, who walked on at Northwestern. But they'll still have a senior-laden team in Sprenkle's second year.

Quarterback Jake Messersmith is one of those seniors, making Spring Grove one of the few teams in the league fortunate enough to return a starting quarterback. Messersmith is one of the YAIAA's most experienced quarterbacks at this point, having started under center for more than one season already.

The Rockets look to get back to the playoffs in the first year of the new PIAA classification format, where just eight playoff spots are available for the 29 teams in Class 5A.

Offense

Quarterback: Messersmith is one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the county, taking over as the starter midway through his sophomore year. He threw for 1,230 yards last year, with 14 touchdowns to seven interceptions.

Running backs: Ryan Daugherty will take over for Nick Erickson as the featured back after seeing some playing time as the backup last year.

Receivers: Messersmith has a lot of history with this group of receivers. Junior Connor Reed and seniors Brady Stein, Anthony Beddia and Theo Johnson will see most of the playing time.

Offensive line: Senior tackle Owen Jacobs, who made the rounds to several Division I camps this summer, will lead the line this year. Wyatt Becker is another returning starter.

“The offensive line has made a huge turnaround since the beginning of this year’s workouts," Jacobs said. "We have two juniors working up the right side and they’re getting the hang of it.”

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YAIAA Division I football players discuss a variety of topics.

Defense

Defensive line: Jacobs and Becker will lead on this side of the ball, as well. Sprenkle said John Rillo is another player who stepped up on the line this summer.

Linebackers: Daugherty, Ronnie Lawson and Nate Young will lead this unit. Several sophomores could see playing time as well.

Secondary: Just like at the receiver position, Reed, Beddia and Johnson bring experience to this unit. Sprenkle said sophomore Michael Goyco could also emerge as a key member of the secondary.

Special teams

For years, Spring Grove has had an advantage enjoyed by few high school teams: A kicker that could hit field goals in excess of 40 yards. Now that Luckenbaugh has graduated, the Rockets are stuck in the same boat as everyone else trying to find a player on the football team or the school soccer team who can kick.

Luckenbaugh's absence will certainly change the thinking when the offense is at the 30-yard line.

“It’ll make the decision a lot easier," Sprenkle said, laughing. "It’ll be four-down territory.”

• • • 

Save the date

Few rivalries in the YAIAA match the intensity of the Week 10 game between Spring Grove and South Western. This year's game, Nov. 4 at South Western, won't be any different as the Mustangs try to avenge last year's loss. The game could also have major playoff implications.

Bottom line

The Rockets lose a lot of talent, but they do return experienced players at almost every position. There's reason for optimism that they can exceed last year's 5-5 record.

In the huddle

Head coach: Kyle Sprenkle (5-6 in one season)
Assistant coaches: Eric Baumgardner (OC), Shane Grim (DC), Zach Toomey, Eric Glass, Tony Miller, Lance Sprenkle
Class: 5A
Enrollment: 802 (423) 
Offense: Spread
Defense: 3-3 stack

2016 schedule

Sept. 2 —   Hershey at Spring Grove, 7 p.m.
Sept. 9 —   Spring Grove at Mechanicsburg, 7 p.m.
Sept. 16 —   Garden Spot at Spring Grove, 7 p.m.
Sept. 23 —   Dallastown at Spring Grove, 7 p.m.
Sept. 30 —   Spring Grove at New Oxford, 7 p.m.
Oct. 7 —   Spring Grove at William Penn, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14* —   Central York at Spring Grove, 7 p.m.
Oct. 21 —   Spring Grove at Northeastern, 7 p.m.
Oct. 28 —   Red Lion at Spring Grove, 7 p.m.
Nov. 4 —   Spring Grove at South Western, 7 p.m.
*homecoming

2015 results

L // Cumberland Valley // 0-33
W // @ Mechanicsburg // 17-14
L // @ York Suburban // 22-29
L // @ Dallastown // 10-20
W // New Oxford // 37-7
W // William Penn // 48-20
W // @ Central York // 24-14
L // Northeastern // 0-30
L // @ Red Lion // 14-28
W // South Western // 28-21
District 3 Class AAA
First Round // L // Manheim Central // 3-51

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