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By Zach Miller and Brandon Stoneburg

With nine weeks left to the start of the high school football season, The Evening Sun’s Countdown to Kickoff continues with a look at the Spring Grove Rockets. Brandon Stoneburg and Zach Miller will continue highlighting one team from the Hanover-Adams area every Friday leading up to the start of the season.

Spring Grove Rockets

Last year: 3-7, seventh in Division I

Coach: Kyle Sprenkle (first season)

Key players lost: RB Shay Feulmer (988 rush yards, 6.3 yards per carry, 12 TDs), WR Logan Hall (27 catches, 419 yards, 3 TDs), C Ziba Topper, CB Brandon Tasker, LB Zack Stauffer

Key players returning: QB Nick Erickson, QB Jake Messersmith, K Andrew Luckenbaugh, WR Anthony Beddia, WR Adam Warehime, CB Ian Slaven, WR/RB L.J. Chisholm, OG Andrew Lawson

Key stretch: Sept. 11-25 (at Mechanicsburg, at York Suburban, at Dallastown)

No other team in the area has to deal with playing three straight games on the road. The Rockets and first-year head coach Kyle Sprenkle will go almost an entire calendar month without playing in the friendly confines of Papermakers Stadium.

Last season, Spring Grove went 2-1 in this stretch, upsetting Mechanicsburg and blowing out the Trojans. This set up a huge early-season battle with Dallastown and some around the Spring Grove program (and maybe a few media personalities, too) were claiming that the Division-I crown came through Papermakers. They were wrong. We were wrong. Dallastown won easily, but what hurt the Rockets even more was the seven starters they lost to injuries in that game. Things started to unravel after that and the Rockets never fully bounced back.

But win two of three again this season during this stretch and you have four of the final six games at home.

Circle this game on the schedule: Nov. 6 vs. South Western

It's the fiercest rivalry in the area. The teams don't like each other. The schools don't like each other. It gets chippy and it's fun to watch how intense the game gets. Not to mention, social media is a battlefield with players throwing jabs at each other in the week leading up to the game. An added storyline this season: If South Western is as good as everyone thinks they are, then could Spring Grove potentially be in a spoiler role in the season finale? Tune in.

Storyline to follow: Plenty of reasons for optimism.

Yes, the Rockets went 3-7 last season. But they were 2-1 before losing seven starters to injuries and losing six of their last seven games.

Yes, they finished in seventh place in Division I. But, they were 9th in total offense and 6th in total defense among 23 teams in the YAIAA. They were only outscored by nine points combined all season.

The statistics show that the Rockets weren't as bad as their record indicates. It's a new era in Spring Grove with Kyle Sprenkle taking over for Russ Stoner, who resigned at the end of last season. Sprenkle is a Rockets alum and he acquires a load of talent in his first season.

Yes, they will have to replace Shay Feulmer and Logan Hall who combined for 15 touchdowns. But, the Rockets lose just 15 seniors and six starters combined.

Spring Grove is solid in the trenches. The line looks fine. We'll see if Sprenkle continues to run a quarterback-by-committee system with Nick Erickson and Jake Messersmith like the team did last season. Both had some really impressive moments, and both had their share of struggles. But, combined, they were the 9th-best passing attack in the league. The wide receiver position took a hit with the loss of Hall, so look for Adam Warehime and Anthony Beddia, who are the team's top-returning receivers, to step up. The speedy Feulmer is gone, and that might be the toughest role to refill. L.J. Chisholm, a 5-foot-6, 155-pound tailback showed flashes of big-play potential with his speed and ability to make defenders miss, but a second option will probably have to step up to share the load.

And, the Rockets have arguably the league's best kicker in Andrew Luckenbaugh.

So it's not all doom and gloom, Spring Grove, there's reason for optimism.

2015 ScheduleSept. 4: Cumberland Valley

Sept. 11: at Mechanicsburg

Sept. 18: at York Suburban

Sept. 25: at Dallastown

Oct. 2: New Oxford

Oct. 9: William Penn

Oct. 16: at Central York

Oct. 23: Northeastern

Oct. 30: at Red Lion

Nov. 6: South Western

Countdown to kickoff scheduleJune 12: New Oxford

June 19: Hanover

June 26: Littlestown

July 3: Spring Grove

July 10: Biglerville

July 17: Fairfield

July 24: South Western

July 31: Delone Catholic

Aug. 7: Gettysburg

Aug. 14: Bermudian Springs

Aug. 21: Over/Unders

Aug. 28: Top returning units

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