Season preview: YAIAA Division II
Time for part two of our blog series. For a breakdown of Division I, head here.
We should have our Division III preview up sometime tomorrow, hopefully in the early afternoon.
The skinny: West York has had a vice grip on this division the last four years, and -- surprise, surprise -- Ron Miller's group looks strong again. Kaden Hepler put up monster numbers as a junior, and should do the same this year. The Bulldogs are also stout along the offensive line and in the defensive secondary, but they have some growing up to do in the first two levels of their defense ... Could Dover finally be the team that knocks West York off? Maybe. The Eagles, after all, return nearly every major contributor from last season's 6-5 team. Dover will be big. It will be experienced. It will be motivated. But will that be enough to knock off its Route 74 rival?. ... After those two, it's anybody's guess. Northeastern returns nine starters on both sides of the ball, and should improve on last season's 2-8 setback. ... New Oxford got better as last season went on, but the Colonials will need a much, much more consistent effort out of their offense (1,663 total yards last season). ... Kennard-Dale finished strong last year and has been consistently around the .500 mark. But the Rams were hit hard by graduation, especially on defense. ... Finally, Susquehannock graduated 20 seniors off a team that was 1-9. That's probably not a good thing. The Warriors strength is in their underclassmen, but how quickly will they get acclimated to the varsity stage?
Surprise team: Northeastern
Four years into its existence, this Bobcats program looks ready to compete. Yes, Northeastern slogged through a two-win season last fall. But nine starters are back on both sides of the ball. The offensive and defensive lines should be better. Senior quarterback Nick Small returns for his third season at the helm. The biggest void will be at running back, where the graduated Aaron Greene took a big chunk of production along with him.
Like last year, the bottom half of this division appears murky. Besides West York and Dover, there are a lot of question marks. If Northeastern can emerge through its non-division schedule in decent shape, they could begin to harbor hopes to become the first Northeastern team to reach .500.
Surprise player: Nick Small, Northeastern
The senior has been a fixture under center for the Bobcats for a few seasons now. This might be the year the rest of the area starts to take notice. Small threw for 1,024 yards last fall, though his completion percentage was a tad low (44.4) and his interceptions were a tad high (10). An improved offensive line should help boost those numbers, as should the return of leading receiver Eric Steadman. Experience goes a long way at the quarterback position, and Small has plenty of it.
Other candidates: Matt Vincent, RB/LB, Kennard-Dale; Zack Smith, WR, West York; Connor Snyder, QB, Dover; Tyrone Belgrave, RB, Northeastern.
Player of the year: Kaden Hepler, QB, West York
All due respect to Dover's Tanner Link, who I expect another fine season from, but it's hard to find a quarterback with the package of skills that Hepler has. He threw for 1,576 yards and 16 touchdowns last season while completing passes at a 55.6 percent clip. And I expect West York throw the ball a bit more this season, meaning all those numbers could go up. Wouldn't be surprised one bit to see Hepler and Link share this award. Right now, I gave the Bulldogs senior a slight advantage.
The Favorites: My first year on this beat was 2009. West York was coming off a District 3-AAA championship the previous year, but there was some question whether they would repeat as Division II champions. York Suburban returned nearly all its big names, including a scary-good tandem of running backs (Cody Waltimyer and Nathaniel Cross) and lots of talent all over the field. At the beginning of the season, the race seemed almost too close to call. At the end of the season, West York once again stood atop the division.
Let's be clear: That Trojans team and this Dover squad are not carbon copies of each other. Far from it. This Eagles team is certainly bigger and more physical. My bigger point is that West York seems to always find a way. Every year good players graduate. Every year new players emerge to take their place.
Some season that will end. Could this be the one? Possibly. Am I betting on it? Not quite. West York deserves the favorite tag until somebody takes it away. One thing's for sure, though: That Week 7 showdown at Dover should be a doozy.
Behind those two, it's really hard to say. I think Northeastern has a legitimate shot to be .500 and threaten for a district playoff berth. New Oxford should make strides after last season's struggles. Kennard-Dale always seems to find new players to step in, and I would bank on Bill Kerr's second season at Susquehannock being better than his first. Still, this looks on paper to be a two-horse race. We'll see if that hunch actually plays out.