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Manheim Township hoping to maintain high level of play in 2016

MANHEIM — As football program after football program bounced away from the Lancaster-Lebanon League’s Media Day festivities Friday afternoon, many of those who stopped by for some chow and chat headed for their respective homes.

Mark Evans and the three Manheim Twp. seniors who accompanied him to Enck’s Catering — lineman Hunter Severe, running back Matt Van Gorden and cornerback Alex Wade repped their teammates — had another destination.

Seems they were hustling back to school, ready to close out the mandatory week-long heat acclimatization period with one final blue-collar session designed to ready everyone for the physical grind while speeding the learning process.

Particularly since Evans’ Blue Streaks (9-3 overall, 6-1 in L-L Section 1) — despite some significant departures — want to maintain the lofty level of play they enjoyed last year while advancing to the District 3-AAAA quarterfinals.

“I think a lot of us were in the mix last year, so we know the expectations on us,” said Severe, the 6-2, 205-pounder who saw plenty of action on both sides of the ball after beginning last season as a reserve. “We know what to do to go get the job done, just because we have a decent amount of experience.”

And while many of the returning Streaks received varsity snaps a season ago, they likely toiled in the shadows as players such as quarterback Erik Benjamin, wideout John Stutz and defensive lineman A.J. McCloud soaked up much of the attention.

Right now, that hardly matters.

Evans believes his current bunch will play together and that collective approach will provide Township with the wherewithal to keep its program rolling.

“It’s all about family this year. That’s one of the neat things about this group,” admitted Evans, who has pieced together a 29-18 record while piloting the Streaks to postseason play in each of his four seasons at the helm.

“This group of guys may not have all the marquee names,” Evans continued, “but they’re going to play together as a team and that’s what I like.”

They’re already working together, that’s for certain.

“When you talk about winning, success breeds success. You look at the team to my left, their tradition never graduates,” Evans said, referring to reigning Section 1 champ and perennial District 3 hammer Wilson. “It doesn’t.

“They do the little things right and that’s what you aspire to do. This week we got a lot of quantity. Next week we’re going to start to get a lot more quality. We did a lot of high-tempo, got the kids running around, got reps, reps, reps. Now, we’re going to go back this week and spend some time on the quality,” Evans added.

“Again, success breeds success. So I think we need to keep building on that. Again, that’s why the next step … is having a true team concept this year.”

Although Van Gorden (118 carries, 641 yards, 8 touchdowns) led the Streaks in rushing last season, plenty of help could come from junior Grayson Sallade (48-360, 5 TDs) — if he doesn’t wind up playing quarterback — and junior transfer Luke Emge. Emge was a pass-run threat last season at Fleetwood (2,834 offensive yards) and could help fill the void left when Benjamin (2,988 offensive yards) departed.

Wideouts Wade, Kade Kubicki and Rece Bender — those three caught a combined 35 passes for 510 yards and 11 scores — are the options on the flanks since Stutz, Riley MacDonald and Dillon O’Connor and their 100-plus grabs are gone.

All of them will work behind a refurbished O-Line featuring Severe and 6-3, 285-pound behemoth Drake Puffenbarger. Tight end Ryan Fluck (6-3, 245) also has size.

A number of holes, although not as many, need to be filled on the defensive side.

“The only way you get experience is to put your feet in the fire,” Evans said of Emge’s arrival. “The finest steel has to go through the hottest fire, that’s why you make practice tougher so Friday nights are easy. So you have a kid that has experience already, now he’s going to have to do it at a higher level.

“He’s already coming in battle tested,” Evans added, “so now it’s time to apply what he learned last year at this level.”

And that level is high, especially since Township will open the season yet again by entertaining District 3 big-school hammer Central Dauphin.

Scraps with South Western and Governor Mifflin follow CD — and then comes what figures to be another stiff Section 1 slate.

Explains why the Streaks want to break quickly.

“It starts with Week 1. We’ve got to start our season off with a positive,” Evans said. “We’ve been in that ballgame with Central Dauphin every year I’ve been here. We’ve had them beaten and lost to them. So, I think it’s very important for us. I’m not saying that’s a season definer for us … but it’s a big goal.

“It’s a big goal for us to start the season off with a positive, something these guys haven’t done. Something we haven’t done as a staff in the four years that I’ve been at Township. And they can do something pretty special that only a handful of Township football teams have done and that’s beat Central Dauphin.”

No wonder Evans and his Streaks were anxious to get back to work.