MANHEIM — Gerad Novak may have turned in the keys to Conestoga Valley’s football program nearly a decade ago, but he’s returning to the sideline fueled up and ready to pilot a much-newer Buckskins model as far as possible.
So, quite simply, it’s safe to say the remarkably experienced coach with all sorts of Lancaster-Lebanon League stripes to his credit is:
Fully energized and flush with enthusiasm, especially since Novak readily admits that he does bleed “red and blue.”
Reinvigorated, thanks to a two-year stint guiding Lancaster Catholic’s defense.
And, thus far, Novak’s transition from physical education teacher keeping tabs on CV’s grid fortunes while parked comfortably inside the faculty room or strolling the hallways to the guy charged with leading the Buckskins (4-6 overall in 2015, 2-5 in L-L 1) back to prominence has not been difficult.
Even though he’s been away for a good bit.
“It’s been very smooth,” admitted Novak, who posted a 65-78 record during his earlier 14-season run (1995-2008) at the CV helm, a stretch that included a trio of District 3 playoff appearances and a pair of L-L Section 2 titles. Prior to taking over as head coach, he served as Jim Cantafio’s defensive coordinator.
“He kind of like brought in his gang, which I was familiar with a lot of those coaches,” senior running back/outside linebacker Connor Brinton said, referring to Novak’s staff. “So I was really excited for the transition. A huge part of it was he just came in and took control immediately. Made sure to set boundaries and really install a good mentality in our team with what he thinks of us.
“I think that’s like kind of the driving force behind this, like we respect him and respect all of the coaches,” Brinton continued. “I think that’s going to be huge moving forward, the way he just took over the program from the get-go is really impressive to me. I think we’ve all really bought into it.”
They’d better, particularly since several of Novak’s first steps included daily workouts in the weight room and a 9 p.m. curfew. Yep, in addition to respect for the staff, Novak wants his players to be disciplined, fit and working hard.
And while that may seem like a real downer, it’s quite the opposite.
“Everything’s more positive than what it’s been,” multi-year starting quarterback Grant Stoltzfus admitted. “Everyone is so much more excited about the season and everyone has high hopes, too. It’s not really been like that the last couple years.”
Yet despite the obvious change at the top — and with the 6-0, 190-pound Stoltzfus back for another season — the Buckskins will continue to throw the football.
“Grant has done very well,” Novak admitted. “In fact, I’ve said to him on numerous occasions, ‘How are things going? Are you understanding things?’ And he said, ‘Coach, honestly, I think this is a lot easier to understand than what we have done in the past.’ Which is a good thing.
“Any time your quarterback feels he can come into spring practice or into summer camp and feel comfortable calling the offense and knowing what the reads are, it makes it so much easier to run things,” Novak continued. “That way we’re on the same page when we’re talking coverages, where the ball needs to be run or where we need to get the ball to. So, it helps tremendously.
“I think it’s a change for him because the system he was in he’s run for the last three years and now it’s totally different. But he seems to be very comfortable throwing the ball and he understands where the ball needs to be thrown and where we need to run the ball in certain situations. So, his progress has been slow, steady and getting better every day. I’m excited about having him at the quarterback position.”
One notable change will come on the defensive side of the ball, where Novak & Co. are shelving the 3-3 Stack sets previous skipper Mark Pieters and his staff used and implementing a 4-4 scheme flush with new assignments and techniques.
Brinton (6-0, 185) will be making the shift to the edges, while Xavier Lopez (5-10, 225) and Eric Graff (6-0, 185) are ticketed for inside backer slots.
Among the players Novak and defensive coordinator Bob Swift are counting on include D-linemen Joel Ortiz (5-11, 290) and Terrence Dunkley (6-1, 200) inside, as well as Nick Ator (5-11, 235) and Michael Sadis (5-10, 240) at the ends.
Ator, by the way, is just one of numerous second-generation players on the CV roster that Novak will be coaching. And having some built-in credibility with some Buckskins families has helped to ease his transition.
On the field, however, is where it really counts.
“It’s a whole different defensive scheme — we’re a gap control defense now — so everybody, all the guys up front, have a gap that they’re responsible for,” said Novak, who is about to begin his 33rd year on the Conestoga Valley faculty. “We’re looking for some big things from these guys. Listen, there’s a lot of experience coming back. Coach Pieters did not leave the cupboard bare.
“There’s a lot of kids who have played varsity football that we have returning. It’s just a matter of can we teach them our system so they can be successful.”
Learning that system is one thing. Displaying that want-to is just as critical.
“No one’s like gifted a position,” Brinton said. “Everyone has to work hard for their spots and stuff. And now, being like named captain, that’s a new weight on your shoulders and everyone looks at you differently.
“So, you really have to portray a good image and always know that you’re representing CV football and that’s what you’re all about,” Brinton added. “You’re kind of in control of your own destiny, to work hard and give it all you got.”
In other words, bleed red and blue.
“We just need to hop on with him, listen to what he says and just take it in because he knows what he’s doing and we’re just trying to absorb everything we can,” Brinton continued. “You can tell that he’s die-hard CV, that that’s his home.
“He’s all-in for us, and that’s a good feeling knowing that we have a coach that’s going to back us.”