When Kris Miller, the newly appointed head football coach of the Ephrata Mountaineers, met with his players for the first time this year, he asked them how many knew about “the streak.”
“Everyone raised their hand,” Miller recalled. “I said ‘look, it’s the last time we’re going to mention it. We all chose to be here; we all know what it is. There’s no reason to talk about it. It’s in the past.’”
The streak, of course, refers to the 31 consecutive losses that has hounded the program the past three seasons. But it seems Miller, who was also hired as a math teacher at the high school, doesn’t want his players working with negative numbers.
“You can’t drive a car looking in the rearview mirror,” Miller said.
On the contrary, Miller prefers working with real numbers – as in a tangible roster without considering hypotheticals.
“We have what we have for our team and we’re going to put them in the best spot to win football games,” the coach explained. “We can’t be worried about the kids we don’t have, but coach the kids that we have and go from there.”
Ephrata’s roster, just 40 strong, includes twelve seniors and a returning starter at quarterback in junior Brendan Holbritter (698 yards passing in 2015). Senior skill players Dustin Fisher (238 yards rushing, 13 receptions) and Tyler Mentzer (16 receptions) will likely be his go-to weapons.
But for now, the greatest common factor in all this is having Miller handling the chalk.
“I’d say (the new head coach) is a big factor. That’s where it all starts,” said Fisher, who admitted he’s “looking forward to a clean slate” this season. “We definitely got a good (coach) here. Just the way he runs practices, they’re very structured and organized.”
“I’m up to 11:30 the night before, just trying to make sure I have the script right and have every minute planned,” Miller offered. “Keep the kids moving and keep their interest on what’s going on.”
Illustrating an attention to detail that hopefully adds up to one thing.
“One win and that streak is over,” said senior lineman Kyle Sadorf. “Basically it’s in the past already. We’re just looking forward to a brand new season, everything is new, and we’re just trying to go out there and win football games and compete.”
Miller, who had been the defensive coordinator at Northern Lebanon the past couple of seasons, liked what he saw on Ephrata’s film when both schools were in Section Three (Ephrata is moving up to Section Two this year).
“It was a nice perspective I got to see,” Miller said. “I’ve been in Ephrata for a football game before as a visiting coach; the atmosphere and community support is second to none. I’m looking forward to that first game.”
Senior linebacker Mason Klaus, who will likely play a prominent role in Miller’s aggressive defense, agreed.
“The community support has been great the past few years,” Klaus said. “We see the stands are still full every Friday night. I think that really helps, knowing they believe in us.”
The Mountaineers open the season at Conestoga Valley, however, with Miller matching wits against his old high school coach, Gerad Novak. Novak, incidentally, is returning for a second stint as head coach of the Buckskins.
Regardless, Miller and his players are eager for opening night in order to find out what they can accomplish this season.
“We’re focused on the first game,” Sadorf began, “to put a stamp on the new Ephrata football team, to see where we’re at.”