Spring Grove High football coach Russ Stoner can laugh about the challenge of building a football team from nearly nothing over the last two years.

In 2011, the Rockets didn't return a single player who accumulated a statistic -- not a rushing yard, not a tackle, not a passing attempt. To compound the situation, they had a large core of sophomores and juniors to build around.

The situation wasn't better off the field. Stoner didn't have an office -- he settled in the bathroom that first season -- and there was no game tape to watch.

"I had video tapes from parents that gave you motion sickness when you watched them," Stoner said. "God bless the parents for that little bit."

About the only positive was filling his staff with coaches who had been around the players for some time. Of course, those coaches didn't have any experience at the varsity level.

Somehow, the Rockets went 8-4 this season after going 1-9 last year. For his team's dramatic turnaround that included a share of the YAIAA Division I title, Stoner has been named the All-Area Football Coach of the Year.

He hopes this is just the first step.

"I never thought it would be as difficult as it was," Stoner said. "And it's not finished yet. It's an ongoing process. I'm not interested in being a one-hit wonder. I'm interested in building a program that's comparable to the Central Yorks, the West Yorks, the Bermudian Springs. That's not an easy task."


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Building a consistently successful program is difficult, but the Rockets have room for growth. They return 17 starters next season, including running back Jeff Delaughter, who rushed for a school-record 1,554 yards, and defensive linemen David Shaw and DeAndre Gaskins, who combined for 10 sacks and 107 tackles.

The Rockets' success has been a function of Stoner's strong work ethic. Following each game, he crawls into bed with his iPad and watches a recording of that game until about 3 a.m. He's up four hours later for Saturday morning meetings with his team.

He then watches film of the upcoming opponent on Saturday night, text messages and emails coaches Sunday evening about a game plan and stays up late Sunday night watching more film. One of his assistant coaches estimated Stoner worked about 480 hours during the season.

The late hours aren't easy.

"We're getting ready to play Shippensburg, and it's 15 minutes before the bus leaves," Stoner said. "I feel people staring at me. The coaches were laughing at me. I fell asleep watching film on my iPad."

The players are showing a similar work ethic. Twenty-four of the 32 players returning for next season attended a recent weightlifting session.

"You can't write those kinds of things to see the coaches buy into it, to see the players buy into it," Stoner said. "I keep telling them it is a rebirthing of football at Spring Grove. I feel we're going in the right direction for building a great football program at Spring Grove.

"It's very, very grueling. I almost feel like I've been at Spring Grove for five years. You never stop. You never stop."

dpaulling@eveningsun.com; 717-637-3736, extension 139. Twitter: @DanielPaulling.