For Kevin Myers and his Dallastown Wildcats, the season will once again open with a foe from across the Susquehanna River.
But, with that being said, there will be some differences for both the Wildcats and the team they face to open the 2016 campaign.
The new classifications push teams to play against schools of similar size, meaning Dallastown has to play similar opponents. Because of that, gone is the smaller Lancaster Catholic, last year's season-opening foe. Instead, the Wildcats will host Hempfield to open the new year, Friday at 7 p.m.
“This is the sort of team we have been looking for and trying to get the last couple of years. The schedule has got to match up,” Myers said. “We are happy to have them fill it."
Myers continued, “It’s going to be a great test. Another 6A school from Lancaster-Lebanon League and see where we are at the beginning of the season. It’s going to be a big test, no doubt about it. But I think we are ready for it.”
Actually, the Wildcats and Black Knights have more in common than enrollment. Both teams graduated the bulk of their playmakers from their 2015 District 3 Class 4A playoff squads.
Dallastown, which finished 9-2 last season, will have senior Michael Sparks under center. Sparks was pressed into duty in late-October when two-year starter Cade Gold was injured.
Gold not only led the Wildcats in rushing in 2015, but completed more than 60 percent of his passes, with seven touchdowns and just two interceptions.
“My approach is trying to be as loose as possible. Try not to let myself get in my own head,” Sparks said. “We’ve got big shoes to fill. I’ve got to play my game. I can’t think of what Cade did.”
Hempfield, which capped a 10-3 season by falling in overtime in last year’s district semifinal, is in transition after losing more than 3,000 yards of rushing offense to graduation.
Running back Will Blair (1,783 yards, 23 touchdowns) and quarterback Sam Kramer (1,229, 13 touchdowns) graduated in the spring. Junior David Robinson moves to quarterback from the receiver position after 22 catches and three touchdowns last season.
“They’ve got a couple nice skill athletes. They are going to be inexperienced, much like we are,” Myers said of Hempfield. “Watching them, they play some tough-nose football.”
One thing Dallastown has been able to do under Myers is overcome graduation. Regardless of who leaves, the program continues to thrive, evidenced by their three YAIAA Division I titles during the past six years.
“That is always the goal and these young men have talked about that,” Myers said. “They know they’ve got some shoes to fill. We’ve also talked about (how) they have to play their game. This is their team."
While typically the Wildcats have been known for being large up front, Myers said this year’s line could have a different look. One thing they do have, however, is experience.
At 5-foot-9, 215 pounds, center Ben Ferree is the perfect example of the coach’s words. Like his teammates, Ferree is looking forward to opening night.
“It’s going to be great to finally get out there against another team and be out there with our brothers,” he said. “That first play, you are always a little nervous the first play of the season. Get out there, get that first play done and it just goes. It’s wonderful.”