There are 23 football coaches in the YAIAA, and 18 of them are in their fifth year or less in that position. Zach Miller - GameTimePA.com
Friday night at York Suburban High School, there will be a big YAIAA Division II football game played on the field and a battle of friendship that unfolds on the respective sidelines.
First, the coaching participants, who have a long-standing track record with one another from their playing days at Lock Haven University.
Andy Loucks, who leads the York Suburban football program, took the field for the Bald Eagles during the 1994 season as the team’s starting defensive nose tackle.
His college teammate and friend that season was outside linebacker Matt Heiser – who just so happens to be Gettysburg’s head football coach.
Despite Lock Haven experiencing middling success that year on the college gridiron, Loucks and Heiser said they forged a fast friendship on and off the field.
They shared a locker room together; they paid the price together – the sacrifice, the weight room, the blood, the sweat, the tears; and on Friday they’ll square off against each other as coaching adversaries when the Trojans host the Warriors at 7 p.m.
“We had a tight-nit group defensively when we were there,” Heiser said. “We were always on the field, getting a lot of reps, hanging out off the field together.”
In regards to Friday night’s game, the Warriors’ coach continued “Is it rare? Yeah. Does it make it more exciting? Yeah. We’re both competitive guys and want to do well.”
After their playing days, Loucks and Heiser stayed in contact. When Loucks was head coach at Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology, he made it a point to recruit players from Boiling Springs High School, where Heiser was head coach until the 2011 campaign.
Heiser would take over as head coach at Gettysburg the following season. Loucks, who became coach at Kennard-Dale following his tenure at Thaddeus Stevens, has been leading the Trojans football program the past two years.
“As coaches, I think we’ve been pretty successful,” Loucks said. “They’ve turned things around over there (at Gettysburg). And we’re playing hard every week.
“We’re both playing good football right now. It should be an interesting game.”
Last year the Trojans won YAIAA Division II with an 8-2 record that included a 45-14 win over Heiser's Warriors. The team entered 2016 without record-setting offensive leaders Thomas Merkle (quarterback) and Colin Mailman (wide receiver), however, and the assumption was that a rebuild might be in the offing.
Not true, however. Suburban enters Friday’s game with a 6-2 overall record and sit in first in the division with a 4-0 mark.
“In the locker room, we’ve got to get ready to go. We’ve got a no-mess-around attitude right now,” Trojans' offensive tackle Gavin Barclay said. “It’s crunch time. We’ve got two weeks to go, and we want to make the most of our chance.”
On the other side of the field, Gettysburg enters play with a 5-3 overall mark and is a game back of first place, holding a 3-1 record in YAIAA Division II play.
Gettysburg was a playoff team two years ago before falling to 1-9 last season. But the team has bounced back in 2016 and, according to senior offensive/defensive tackle Austin Crushong, the Warriors are treating this week like a playoff game.
“We’ve been talking about it ever since last week,” Crushong said. “We win this, we’re in districts.”
In other words, Friday’s contest offers more then just two former friends catching up pregame. It's also a big game in the YAIAA Division II power structure.
"It looms large. In division and in district," Loucks said. "They think they can still get in. And we have to take care of business. Yeah, it's a big game."
On the field, and off the field.
If you go
Who: Gettysburg (5-3, 3-1) at York Suburban (6-2, 4-0)
What: YAIAA Division II football game
Where: York Suburban High School
When: Friday, 7 p.m.