Football in the air at L-L Media Day
MANHEIM - It didn't really feel like football was in the air, given the extreme heat and humidity that hung over Central Pennsylvania on Friday.
But inside the friendly, much cooler confines of Enck's Banquet and Conference Center in Manheim, football - and football talk - was all over the place thanks to the annual Lancaster-Lebanon League Football Media Day festivities.
Players and coaches from the L-L's 23 football-playing schools - including Lebanon County representatives Annville-Cleona, Cedar Crest, Elco, Lebanon and Northern Lebanon - gathered at Enck's Friday afternoon to discuss their hopes, plans and dreams for the 2016 season, which begins in earnest with the official start of practice on Monday.
Here are some Lebanon County-themed takeaways from Friday's event:
Vikings ready to defend: Despite some substantial graduation losses for the second straight year, Northern Lebanon is conceding nothing to its Section Three rivals - which includes a returning Lancaster Catholic squad via realignment - as it takes aim at a third straight section crown.
"We never worry about who's not there, we worry about who's there," said NL coach Roy Wall, shrugging off the graduation losses.
The Vikings, who were also represented on Friday by Luke Funck, Hunter Wallace and Noah Smith, haven't lost a section game since falling to Donegal 33-21 on Oct. 25, 2013.
Cedar Crest finds new home: Enrollment-based L-L realignment has moved longtime Section One resident Cedar Crest to Section Two for the first time since 1997, a swap that will also send the Falcons' crosstown rival, Lebanon, up to Section One.
It's a switch that will take some getting used to - maybe for fans and media more than the respective teams - but Cedar Crest coach Rob Wildasin, whose squad will be counting heavily on the power running of senior back Justice Belleman, doesn't look at the move as a step down in class for his squad.
Not with the likes of perennial powers Manheim Central, Lampeter-Strasburg and Cocalico to deal with, not to mention defending co-section champ Solanco.
"It's a 'beat 'em up' league," Wildasin said of Section Two. "Anybody who thinks it's a drop-off is clearly in for a rude awakening."
Change in the air at Lebanon: Not only is Lebanon switching sections in 2016, it's also changing identities and philosophies, not to mention practice venues next week.
Check this out: Lebanon is scrapping its vaunted Air Raid offense after nearly a decade of throwing the ball around on Friday night in favor of a more diverse Short Pistol offense, a change that will include moving last year's quarterback Cody Kissinger to receiver.
It's a change in direction coach Gerry Yonchiuk hopes will make the Cedars more consistently competitive, instead of just those years when it had the right quarterback to run the Air Raid.
"When we've had a great trigger guy, Mark (Pyles) or James (Capello), we've had some great years - single years," Yonchiuk said. "But you can't survive that way. After the season was done, we did some soul-searching and pretty much imploded our whole program and started over. I feel like I'm at a new school - there's that much of a difference. Everything we'll be doing defensively will be new, and our offense will be completely different."
As noted, the first week of practice will follow suit, as the Cedars head to the Poconos next week for five days of a "Remember The Titans" style of training camp.
Riding the Horst: After recovering from an 0-3 start to 2015 to finish 5-5, Elco has some reasons for optimism heading into this season. The biggest reason is 6-foot-1 215-pound senior running back Tyler Horst, the top returning rusher in the L-L.
Suffice it to say, Horst will be busy this season as Elco hopes to pound opposing defenses into submission.
"We've turned into a power run game offense, a downhill running game," Elco coach Bob Miller said. "It's a lot easier to be on the field on offense than on defense for those long drives, so that helps out. And the run game opens up that play-action (passing) game. I think that's something we really, really capitalized on last year."
Senior living at Annville-Cleona: It's rare for a small-school program to have large senior classes in back-to-back years, but that's the case at Annville-Cleona this season, albeit with a twist.
"We did lose 15 seniors and have a couple more kids that aren't coming back out," said A-C boss Matt Gingrich. "But we do have 21 seniors that are here, and a lot of them are new. It's been quite an experience. We're senior and sophomore heavy, and junior light."
Fortunately for A-C one of those seniors is big-play back Cameron Hoch, who was hampered by injuries last season but is being counted on heavily this time around.
"Cameron is back and healthy, which is nice," Gingrich said. "Cameron put on about 20 pounds and looks, I guess you could say, like he's poised for a comeback season."