MANHEIM — Even as Eric Spencer sat alongside three of his players at last weekend’s Lancaster-Lebanon League football Media Day festivities, one quickly got the sense that he was just itching to blow his whistle and see some sweat pour.
Didn’t matter that McCaskey’s first-year skipper and his Red Tornadoes were parked at a table in a sizable banquet room, there was work to be done and Spencer didn’t want to take even the slightest chance that sitting idle could cause something to be missed or left unattended.
Might have plenty to do with him being away from the game for eight-plus years.
Tagged McCaskey’s skipper in mid-February — Spencer fronted Garden Spot’s program for four years (2002-2005), then worked as an assistant coach at Franklin & Marshall for two seasons before stepping away — the enthusiastic Spencer is remarkably happy to be piloting a football program once again.
“I think the kids understood pretty quickly that I love coaching,” Spencer admitted. “I love being a part of the program. I love working with these young men. I’m there all the time. I put the long hours in. I’m willing to put the time in to get this program headed the right way and these young men have been responsive to that.
“They’ve come in and done their work. They’ve been improving their commitment and the work ethic and doing everything I’ve always enjoyed as a coach,” Spencer added. “I’m excited about where we can continue to go in the future.”
While Spencer’s Tornadoes are optimistic about the not-so-distant future — McCaskey finished 4-6 last season, 3-4 in the L-L’s difficult Section One — all of his players know they’ll be challenged on the practice field and in the weight room to bear down, learn their various assignments and be ready to execute before they ever step on the field for their Sept. 2 opener against State College.
Effort means plenty to Spencer and McCaskey’s players are fully aware.
“Right now, I like the mentality he’s bringing to the table,” senior two-way lineman Jordae Grove said. “Hard work pays off. If you miss more than one practice, you don’t start. There’s no guarantee you’ll start, you have to earn your position. So every position has competition and that’s what I like.
“Now it’s good that we have competition every day. We all know if you want to start, you’ve got to work hard for it. There are no guaranteed spots.”
“At our first team meeting he stressed teamwork and how we’re gonna have to work hard to be successful,” junior safety Rich Scarborough added. “Every day so far, he’s been proving to us that we’re gonna have to work hard.
“This is not an easy league. And every day we’re trying to prove to him that we’re going to work hard so we can be something in the L-L this year.”
Although Spencer had been working as a principal at Lampeter-Strasburg High School, he left the administrative field for a classroom teaching position at McCaskey. So, he’s making an off-the-field transition as well.
And that change has him just as pumped up as overseeing agility drills or directing linemen as they hammer a blocking sled or seeing a new play run to perfection.
“I’m excited about the opportunity to teach in the classroom again,” said Spencer, who posted a 20-22 record during his four-season run at Garden Spot. “I’ll be doing some other work for the district as well.
“I’ll be back to doing what I love to do, which is working with kids, coaching kids and developing kids in the classroom.”
Yet while Spencer is enthused about transitioning back into a classroom setting — not to mention the quick yet authoritative steps he’s been flashing while preparing the Tornadoes for Friday night action this fall — his plan is to keep things simple from a football perspective while fully utilizing the assets his players possess.
Although football has changed somewhat since Spencer last roamed a sideline, particularly since many high schools have implemented detailed passing games, the basics have not. The game’s still predicated on blocking, tackling, outnumbering the opponent at the point of attack and identifying your team’s strengths.
“We want to be able to attack, come downhill, get in people’s faces quickly with our speed and our size,” said Spencer, who is planning to spread things out offensively. “We’re going to focus on that. We’re going to really work on our combos up front, on staying on our blocks and moving our feet. Receivers are really working on spacing, being in the right position, recognizing routes, recognizing defenses.”
Speed also will be a key defensively for the remarkably athletic Tornadoes, who on most downs likely will operate out of a 4-2-5 scheme.
“Defensively we’re just going to pin our ears back, pin our ears back and take care of our responsibilities,” a grinning Spencer said. “Take care of our gap, take care of our coverage. Just keep going downhill and just execute, execute.”
It's just a matter of getting up to speed and comfortable.
“There is a sense of enthusiasm and a sense of commitment. They’re working hard,” Spencer repeated. “I am cutting after the first week because I want to make sure that we have kids that want to be there. We have about 20-25 linemen in the program right now. We have some good-looking older kids and younger kids.
“We’ve got about 25 skill kids, a lot of depth, a lot of speed at our senior, junior and sophomore levels. We’ve got a good backfield, a good core, a lot of depth there in our H-backs, tight ends and our running backs. We’re pretty excited.
“We’ve got a good competition going at quarterback. That’s probably the one area that we’ve got a lot of work [to do] to make sure we get better, because when you run the Pistol you put a lot of onus on the quarterback to execute,” Spencer added. “However we’re enjoying the challenge and the opportunity we have with this.”
All of them are.
“It’s been a rough year for us, just because it was a pretty long process of who our coach was going to be” senior defensive end Will Brown said. “And for us to finally get a coach in Coach Spencer, it’s been a great, great summer for us.
“I’m pretty sure and confident that once we’re done with our summer, that once the season starts, we’ll be ready to go.”