Lions practice notes: High praise for Klinefelter
My colleague Steve Navaroli and I stopped by a gym-bound Red Lion football practice on Wednesday afternoon, where the Lions were once-again forced indoors by ugly weather. Here are a few quick notes from that workout. And be sure to check back on GameTimePA.com throughout the next few days as we build up to Saturday's kick-off. High praise: Red Lion coach Pat Conrad had some hefty compliments for his junior quarterback, Tanner Klinefelter (pictured above). "Seeing the quad-A teams from the Berks League, Lancaster-Lebanon, Mid-Penn," Conrad said, "with the exception of some of those triple-A kids from Bishop McDevitt, Tanner Klinefelter I think is the best quarterback in District 3. "I haven't seen a lot of the single or double-A teams. But at the quad-A level I think he's the best quarterback there is." That's no small praise, either, considering some of the notable signal callers in the district. Wilson's Zach Zweizig and Harrisburg's Jalen Fitzpatrick (who was injured during the playoffs) come to mind. And certainly, Klinefelter has pieced together an noteworthy season. His production (1,797 passing yards, 23 TDs) has been impressive enough, but perhaps more staggering is the fact Klinefelter has only thrown six interceptions. He's also completed nearly 60 percent of his passes, which puts him tops among quarterbacks from the YAIAA. "He does a nice job managing the game," Conrad said. "He certainly has the arm strength to get it down the field or across the field. "I think he's got a bright future ahead of him." Air it out: Red Lion's passing prowess may come in handy Saturday. Cumberland Valley can be difficult to run the ball against. The Eagles are allowing an average of 135.3 rushing yards this season, but that number dips dramatically against YAIAA teams. In three games against local teams -- Red Lion, Central York and Spring Grove -- Cumberland Valley has allowed 26 rushing yards per game. Which means the Lions may have to take to the air if they want to move the ball consistently. Spring Grove had some success in that area, passing for 240 yards in its district game against CV a few weeks ago. Red Lion is well equipped to air it out, of course, with Klinefelter and a talented group of receivers that includes seniors Branden Kessler and Joe Baublitz and junior Erik Althoff. "It's nice to hear all the talk about how we have a good receiving corps," Althoff said Wednesday. "We have a great receivers coach and we work hard." Added Conrad: "They know we can throw the football. They've seen that." Standout season: Speaking of Red Lion's receivers, our feature for Thursday's paper focused on Kessler, who has become one of the Lions' offensive and defensive leaders this season. Kessler's size (6-foot-4) and speed have made him one of the area's most reliable downfield threats. But those same skill sets have also helped Kessler become one of the area's top lacrosse players. He piled up 42 goals and 31 assists last season as a junior, and was selected to one of the eight regional Adidas All-America teams. Kessler currently plans to play Division I lacrosse at Hobart College in upstate New York next year. (A brief aside: Hobart and my alma mater, Syracuse, play annually for the coveted Kraus-Simmons Trophy. It's actually a pretty cool rivalry.) But in light of the wideout's standout season, Conrad has recently sent out highlight DVDs of Kessler to various colleges. He hopes some school -- perhaps a FCS team (formerly DIvision I-AA) -- will show interest in the coming weeks. Kessler sounded fairly committed to his lacrosse future on Wednesday, though he wouldn't quite rule football out. "I put a lot of time and effort into my lacrosse recruiting," he said. "If something comes across that I couldn't refuse, like a good scholarship, then I'd consider it. I'm having a great time this year." Reason to believe: Conrad was frank when asked if, after his team's 45-6 defeat to CV in Week 1, his team could have envisioned meeting the Eagles against on this stage. "Not to sound cocky or arrogant or anything, but yes we did," the coach said. "We knew that if we were going to get to that point, it was probably going to be Cumberland Valley. Because as good as they played Week 1, we figured they were going to be one of the best teams in the district. ... We certainly had confidence in ourselves." That last part should come as no surprise. One of the more striking aspects of this Red Lion team, at least in my opinion, has been the Lions' steadfast believe in themselves. They expected to be here. Call it confidence or cockiness or whatever you want ... the Lions seem to have found the right mix of it. Full circle: This will not be the first time Conrad has coached against Cumberland Valley in the playoffs. Conrad was a first-year assistant in 1998, when Red Lion lost to Cumberland Valley, 13-3, in a District 3 Class AAAA semifinal. (Back then, only four teams qualified for the district playoffs.) He's not the only member of Red Lion's staff that was a part of those teams. Varsity assistant John Smeltzer and JV head coach Jason Smith were both players back in 1998.