BY JEFF FALK
MYERSTOWN – Last season, there were huge question marks surrounding the Elco program. And the Raiders turned out to be the talk of the Lebanon County scholastic football scene.
This year, there are similar, yet different uncertainties about the Raiders. But who’s to say that Elco can’t be the surprise of the local gridiron campaign again?
In 2012, seemingly playing with a chip on its shoulder, Elco went an unheard of 6-4 under brand-new head coach Bob Miller. The Raiders got it done with a senior-oriented group and by leaning on an experienced offensive line.
This year’s challenges? Rebuilding that offensive line, finding different ways to utilize personnel to their fullest and creating unique methods to get star running back Cameron Strause the ball.
“Last year was a blur,” said Miller, who took over the program a month before the 2012 campaign began. “Things happened so fast. I remember having to be so focused on installation. There wasn’t a lot of time to put things in. But the end result was good.
“There will be carry-over with the program, but not this year,” added Miller. “We had so many seniors last year, and not many kids out. Fifteen of our 29 kids were seniors. Getting 18 kids out per class per year is our goal. It’s a huge push.”
Miller has 32 kids with which to work this season, and a lot fewer seniors. What that adds up to is five returning starters on offense, three on defense and a whole bunch of grooming.
“Our off-season was awesome,” said Miller, who doubles as the Raiders’ track and field boss. “We had a great turn-out in the weight room. But man are we young. We have guys who gained weight but don’t know how to use it. It’s (summer camp) been a lot of teaching. It’s been kind of slow this year just because we’ve been doing a lot of teaching.
“Our scrimmages from Week One to Week Two went from horrible to better,” continued Miller. “I think our weakness is consistency. They (his players) can’t take plays off. They can’t have mental breakdowns.”
One positive aspect of the Raiders’ metamorphosis has been the emergence of sophomore quarterback Jeff Martin and the return of Strause to his natural position of tailback. Potentially, they could make Elco more balanced offensively, less predictable and more explosive.
Look for Martin to be a smarter, more seasoned and more accurate passer in 2012. Meanwhile Strause is one of the those rare workhorses who combines speed with power.
And senior receivers Derek Miller and Phil Kline will be Martin’s prime targets.
“Last year, we were run heavy,” said Miller. “Now Jeff can throw the ball. Cameron is a running back, and Jeff will do great. Last year, Jeff had a strong arm and did really well with what he was given to do. But we didn’t take a lot of shots deep. Now he’s reading defenders. He’s able to see the defense. That’s been a huge step up for him. This year he knows he’s going to play the majority of snaps if he’s healthy. And his footwork has improved.
“We told Cameron, if he’s going to be good he’s got to play another sport,” continued Miller. “So he came out for indoor track, gained ten pounds and lowered his 40 (yard dash) time to 4.4 or 4.5. He’s in awesome shape. If he can go, we’re just going to keep giving it to him. I’m excited for him this year because he’s so strong.”
The Raiders do have some blocks with which to build its offensive line. By name, they are captain Steven Rhoades, senior Marshall Witmer and junior Pat Adams. That group in particular will have to perform competently to allow Martin, Strause and company time to do their things.
“They’re two different animals,” said Miller of his men in the trenches. “Last year was about Xs and Os. This year, in terms of technique, it’s a little better. But in terms of gelling and game speed, this year’s linemen are a little off. We’ve got to get some boys who can get off the ball and hit.
“One of the things I’m pleased with is the effort,” Miller continued. “That carried over from last year, especially with our top kids. They’re learning, the experience just isn’t there.”
Elco will also be looking to sure things up on the defensive side of the ball. The Raiders’ ‘D’ will be anchored by Rhoades, Witmer and Nate Hostetter up front, and Strause and Jake Stager from the secondary.
In addition, the Raiders are counting on contributions from newcomers Shaun Gordon and Travis Zimmerman.
“Our goal right now is to beat Hamburg (in Week One), improve week after week and to be a contender in the section,” said Miller. “We need t go week by week and build. We can’t have a lapse. There’s teams that we beat last year who are now senior-laden.
“If we’re going to be successful this year, our team needs to start fast offensively and have an answer when teams stack up against Cameron,” Miller added. “When you have 30 guys and are going up against teams who have 50, it’s tough to come back. Not impossible, but tough. If we can get better week after week, we can get there.”
And numbers hold the key to the Raiders’ success in the future.
“I actually look back a lot,” said Miller. “I think that’s important for a coach to do. You’ve got to find a way to get kids out. If you give a good experience for kids, they’ll be your ‘recruiters’. We have ‘recruiters’ who are bringing kids in who were walking the halls.
“If you want to be a contender, you can’t be going with 30 every year,” Miller concluded. “Bu we’re going in the right direction.”
2013 Elco Football Roster
|First Name||Last Name||Grade||Jersey #||Height||Weight||Off.||Def.|