Season preview: YAIAA Division III
The skinny: Right off the bat, there are three teams that stand out. Delone Catholic has been one of the YAIAA's most consistent programs the last half-decade, and the Squires have lots of talent stockpiled once again. The lines are solid, Brett Smith brings versatility to the quarterback position and Tyler Smith and Colby McMaster should be able to carry the load at running back. Bermudian Springs also looks stacked, having bought back workhorse tailback/linebacker Tyler Fitzkee and plenty of physicality up front. The Eagles clearly improved as last season went on, the apex of their success coming in the form of a 37-0 drubbing of Littlestown in the District 3 playoffs. And speaking of the Thunderbolts, you can never count out Mike Lippy's squad. Once again, the veteran coach will have to replace a swarm of offensive weapons. But Littlestown returns some beef up front, and Lippy's aerial attack always seems to put points on the board.
After those three, there appears to be a bit of a dropoff. Hanover made huge strides last season, and has most of its starters back. Could the Nighthawks threaten for a district playoff berth? ... Biglerville also reached .500 in Year 1 of the Alex Ramos era, but the Canners will have to find some new offensive producers if they want Year 2 to be just as good. ... What about Eastern York? The Golden Knights have a new coach, a proven running back (junior Alex Cooley) and a whole lot of returning starters. They could be a threat to crack the upper half of the division. ... Speaking of new coaches, veteran coordinator Brian Freed takes the reins at York Suburban. Freed knows the program well and has some pieces to build upon, but the Trojans have a long way to go after a two-win 2010. ... Doug Wilkinson takes over at York County Tech and brings his power option attack. The coach built a solid foundation from scratch at Kennard-Dale, but that took time. This probably will, too. ... Last but not least among the quartet of new coaches in this division: York Catholic's Eric DePew. The Irish were crushed by graduation, but there are some building blocks here (junior RB Matthew Lehr cracked 1,000 yards last season). Interested to see what York Catholic and their new coach can muster. ... Last but not least, Fairfield is looking to bust a losing streak that now sits at 19 games. The Green Knights are still a long way from contending.
Surprise team: Eastern York
Brubaker walked into a fairly good situation here. The longtime Eastern assistant takes over a program that does have some talent. Cooley was outstanding last season at tailback (1,204 yards), Chase Beaverson has some experience at quarterback and the offensive line is all seniors. Plus the Division III landscape is such that -- after those big three, and maybe Hanover -- there's something of a void. That's means there's a real chance for one of those other teams to make a move up in the standings and win five or six games. I think Eastern York could be that squad.
Surprise player: Matt Felton, RB/LB, Hanover
The senior was second on the team in 2010 with 437 rushing yards. With the graduation of backfield mates Payton Caler and Billy Hill, it figures to be Felton's show this season. Nighthawks coach Jason Potts has said his team could throw the ball a bit more, but I wouldn't bank on Hanover getting too far away from what it's best at.
Player of the year: Tyler Fitzkee, RB/LB, Bermudian Springs
Hard to argue with what Fitzkee did as a junior. He was YAIAA’s leading rusher (1,424), averaged 7.2 yards per carry, and even chipped in 272 receiving yards and a team-best 23 receptions. On defense, Fitzkee led Bermudian in both tackles (123) and sacks (6.5). Last season, Fitzkee shared carries with the since-graduated Austin Keller. In other words, you could probably expect to see those offensive numbers go up.
The Favorites: To me, it's between those top three. Littlestown always reloads, and this year won't be any different. I've been sky high on the Squires all preseason. Delone is always a safe bet to compete, and with the combination of offensive weapons it has back, this season's team could be special. Bermudian grew up fast last season, as evidenced by its playoff bashing of Littlestown. A year stronger, they should certainly be right in the mix.
My gut feeling: It comes to Delone and Bermudian. Those teams play at Delone on Oct. 7. Mark your calenders accordingly.