BY JEFF FALK
ANNVILLE – The smaller the school, the more cyclical the athletic programs. So how does Annville-Cleona, the smallest football program in Lebanon County, combat inevitable downturns?
Participation. Pro-active coaching. Peer leadership. Tradition. And community pride.
The 50th football season for the Little Dutchmen should be an intriguing one, to say the least. The Little Dutchmen graduated a boat-load of key contributors from a 2016 squad that went 7-3 and shared the Lancaster-Lebanon Section Three championship with Donegal.
But for various reasons, ten of this season’s seniors and juniors decided not to come out, leaving Annville-Cleona’s roster with just a handful of 12th- and 11th-graders. So this season, A-C’s prolific class of 2020, which went 7-1 on the junior-high level, will be counted on heavily.
“It’s not a new season. It’s an extension of last season,” said Annville-Cleona boss Matt Gingrich. “We try to bring it (2016) up as much as possible. We need to use the great things they (last year’s players) used. They gave their full effort, one hundred percent of the time. It doesn’t matter what we did, but it matters how we did it.
“Every year is completely different,” continued Gingrich. “There’s 23 tenth-graders and we need them to understand they’re prime time players. Noah’s (Myers) focus is on being the vocal leader he needs to be. Some of these guys were looking up to other players, and now they’re being looked up to. Going into camp, the goal was trying to get these kids better altogether, responsibility-wise. It’s kind of like, “You’re a sophomore. But sorry, you can’t be a sophomore.'”
Through all classes, Gingrich welcomed the 36 players who turned out for football. The Little Dutchmen return three starters on offense and two on defense.
“I remember a lot about last season,” said Gingrich, who’s in his third year at the Little Dutchmen helm. “I remember a horrible, horrible start. We lost games, not because of ability, but because of understanding. We were 0-2, and we could’ve easily been 0-3. I remember a trip to Hanover. The expectations were very low and we won our season that night. From there, we rolled.
“Those kids practiced their butts off,” Gingrich continued. “The reason that group won was because they cared about each other. We had kids doing stuff they had never done before. That was a dream season.”
One thing that hasn’t changed for Annville-Cleona is the fact that its success will hinge on the decision-making, running ability and strong right arm of Myers, a 6-3, 248-pound senior quarterback. Everything the Little Dutchmen do this season offensively will run through Myers.
Myers’ 2016 stats – 100 rushes for 474 yards and seven touchdowns, and 34-for-64 passing for 750 yards and ten touchdowns (yeah, that’s 22 yards per completion) – are sneaky impressive. His progression as a player and evolution as a leader are a little less tangible.
“He has become a man,” said Gingrich of Myers. “When I first came here, he wasn’t ready for that. Now he just owns it and he does a great job of helping others. It’s neat to watch him do that. His progression has been immeasurable. He can flat out throw a football. But we don’t have a line which can hold up that way and we don’t have kids who can catch the football that way.
“I couldn’t be more impressed with the overall effort and accountability,” added Gingrich. “That’s all we’re looking for. They’ve (his players) been awesome. They do a great job of not making the same mistake twice. If I say it one time, I don’t have to say it again. They’re really trying. We don’t have a trying issue.”
Myers’ mere presence takes pressure off the development of the Little Dutchmen’s other skill kids. But guys like Caleb Turner, Dominic MacMilan, Gabe Burris, Quamir Parker, Hayden Funck, Josh Speraw, Jalen Price, Tyler Long, Evan Heilman, Dylan Scheer, Trevor Porche, Romeo Varela and Dan Tobias will be called upon to contribute eventually.
“The goals are simple,” said Gingrich. “On defense, we’re looking for alignment, assignment and effort. We do a lot with eyes. If we see their (his players’) eyes, we know they’re doing the right thing. The thing about offense is that the tenth-graders have been running the same system since the seventh grade. We want to run it fast. I have a little bit bigger expectations for the offensive execution.
“As far as outcomes, I will never say wins or losses or records,” Gingrich added. “I have some things in my head, but I won’t share it with them. If they come out 5-5 and come November they say, ‘We did our best.’ I’ll be OK with that. I want them to represent their town. And their town doesn’t care how many games they win or lose, just how hard they work.”
The Little Dutchmen up front are not without experience or athleticism. The group is spearheaded by seniors Hunter Kelley and Warren Willetts and also features Gavin Stoudt, Connor Williams, Matt Pajski and Dion Lopez.
“One of the things (assistant) Coach (Matt) Gross said today that stuck with me was, ‘What we can say is that they (the players) give full effort,'” said Gingrich. “The improvement is there every single day. There is no one who has given more effort than us. What we’re looking for is that, and we’re getting it. When I tell you we’re young, I can’t impress upon you how young.”
Annville-Cleona will open its 2017 campaign in Week Zero, on Friday, August 25th at Trinity.
“It’s a tough sport. But our numbers are very good, all things considered,” said Gingrich. “It’s (high school athletics) now become an avenue for kids to get scholarships in their respective sports – and that’s what kills me. But our percent of participation is really good. I always want to have our numbers in the 40s. The focus of high school sports has changed. Now people only play a high school sport if they believe they’re going to benefit personally.
“I’m very lucky. Our school is littered with coaches,” continued Gingrich. “I want kids to play football because it’s a good sport that can help you as you age. You can give back to your community. You can learn about selflessness. I can’t tell you what a section championship has done for this community. We don’t care what you play. Play them all. We’re just trying to get these kids out.”
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2017 Annville-Cleona Football Schedule
|Date & Time||Opponent(s)||Facility|
|(H)||vs Lebanon Senior HS (scrimmage)||AC Stadium|
|(A)||vs Trinity HS|
|(A)||vs Biglerville HS|
|(H)||vs Camp Hill Senior HS||AC Stadium|
|(H)||vs Hanover HS||AC Stadium|
|(H)||vs Eastern Lebanon County HS||AC Stadium|
|(A)||vs Lancaster Catholic HS|
|(H)||vs Columbia Borough JSHS||AC Stadium|
|(A)||vs Northern Lebanon Senior HS|
|(H)||vs Pequea Valley HS||AC Stadium|
|(A)||vs Donegal HS|