Everything about them matches the underdog archetype.
The undermanned roster.
The lineup full of underclassmen.
The early-season struggles.
Then you remember that, as little as five months ago, nobody was sure if the William Penn football team would even exist this season.
So perhaps it's time we step back and appreciate what the Bearcats have done so far. They will head to Spring Grove's Papermakers Stadium on Friday with an ordinary-looking, 3-4 record, but also with a chance to take a giant step toward an unlikely YAIAA Division I title. The winner of Friday's contest will assume outright possession of the division lead with two games to play.
The Bearcats? They just keep finding ways to surprise people. To turn adversity into fuel for their next play.
Take last week's 29-22 win at home over Dallastown, one of the division favorites coming into the season. William Penn trailed 16-0 at halftime, before its seniors -- including running back Kelvin Nieves -- delivered an impassioned halftime pep talk.
"We seniors are tired of losing," Nieves recalled Tuesday. "I said those words, and I guess after halftime everybody listened."
Nieves has emerged as the team's heart-and-soul leader -- both on the field and away from it. During a ceremony for William Penn's Block-and-Tackle Express Club last May at the Yorktowne Hotel, Nieves made a plea to York City School District Superintendent Deborah Wortham to keep sports at the school. "That's my way out," Nieves said then.
That was only days after the district announced it would be able to save some extra-curricular actives, including football, for the 2012-13 school year.
Once the season started, the Bearcats encountered more roadblocks. They lost their first three games and have practiced at times with coaches participating on the scout team -- a product of a roster that hovers around 30.
They have also entrusted the offense to sophomore quarterback James Way, one of just five sophomores who start for the Bearcats.
"We finally feel we have a core of guys, even if it's only 30, 32," William Penn coach Shawn Heinold said. "We feel we finally have a group that's bought in and got this rolling in the right direction."
Now here they are, with three games left and everything to play for. Nieves has been the pacemaker in many ways -- his 789 rushing yards lead the team. But Way has continued to develop. And the offensive and defensive lines, once overmatched, have held their own.
Who knows what Friday night -- and the next few weeks of football -- will eventually bring.
For now, the fact that the Bearcats players have such an opportunity is what matters most.
"This is my dream," Nieves said of Friday's game. "This is what I've always been dreaming of."
Big-play threat: The Central York football team expected to field an explosive offense this season. Rightfully so, with talents like running back Marquis Fells and quarterback Corey Hartz back in the fold.
But perhaps one pleasant surprise has been the emergence of receiver Darian Hampton. The 6-foot-2 senior ranks second in the league in receiving yards (522) and touchdown grabs (eight), and is averaging 19.3 yards per catch. He has made at least one catch of 33 or more yards in every game this season.
"We always tell him that he's a work in progress, and he does not even maybe understand or appreciate the amount of talent he has," Central York coach Brad Livingston said. "But he's an extremely talented athlete, and there's a level of maturity to his game that we haven't seen the last few years.
"I don't know if Darian has even scratched the surface of what he's capable of."
Plenty of parity: How close is YAIAA Division I this season? Livingston, in his 31st season as a head coach, had this to say:
"I don't know that I've ever really seen it like this. It seems like you're in a situation this season where every team is capable of playing well at times. So you need to play well, or if you run into that team you're not going to have a good outcome. I don't know that I've ever seen the balance like it has this year."
John Clayton is a prep sports reporter for the Daily Record/Sunday News. Reach him at 771-2045 or firstname.lastname@example.org.