ANNVILLE – No razzle-dazzle.
No triple-reverse, statue-of-liberty flea flickers.
No style over substance.
Just smash-mouth, hard-nosed, in-your-face football.
Just basics, fundamentals and repetition.
As the football world has gone and gotten itself in a big hurry, Annville-Cleona has remained constant and consistent. Win the battles at the line of scrimmage, and you can win a lot of wars in 28 years.
“When I see kids who played for me in the past, they come up to me and say, ‘Hey coach, how are you doing?'” said Annville-Cleona head coach Terry Lehman in his best we-do-what-we-do inflection. “You make 95 percent of parents and kids happy, and as you go along that becomes 100 percent. We’re respected as a hard-hitting team, a clean team. When other teams play Annville-Cleona, win or lose, they’re going to get hit.
What’s striking about this particular collection of Little Dutchmen is that they’re very business-like, very centered and they don’t feature a lot of big-name players – yet. It is a group looking to make up for the loss of 11 graduated seniors, and one that returns five starters on one side of the ball and four on the other.
“I think 33 is a great number,” said Lehman of the turnout for his 28th season at the helm. “Everybody wants 40s and 50s. But look at how many kids don’t get work. Injuries are a concern, but we have a good number of good football players.
The Little Dutchmen’s strength is in the trenches, up front both offensively and defensively. Seniors Josh Hartman, Adam Bennett, Andrew Burris and John Groh, and junior Brandon Light will all see action each way, because they’re all big, strong and physical.
“Our strength is our defensive front,” said Lehman. “Our next strength is our offensive line. I really think teams are going to have trouble running on us. We’re not going to give up six or seven yards a pop. But I think our defensive secondary is a weakness because we have young kids there. They need time.
Running behind those physical gentlemen will be 6-0, 265-pound junior stud Lucas Bush and athletic senior Noah Connor. The quarterback reigns have been passed from Mitch Rodkey to talented 6-1 junior Adam Fox, while juniors Alec Barr and Luke Frattaroli and sophomore Cameron Hoch have the speed and moves to get open down the field.
Senior Trace Seiple and junior Will Langan will man skill positions on both offense and defense.
“My expectations? I don’t have them set yet,” said Lehman. “They’re a neat group. We don’t have locker room problems or distractions. We have football players who are good kids. I like expectations that can grow.
“I know they (his players) have goals,” continued Lehman. “They want to get back to the playoffs. We gave Littlestown all they could handle (in last year’s opening round of the District Three Class AA postseason).”
Last season was a successful one for Lehman and the Little Dutchmen. After losing its first five games of 2013, Annville-Cleona won four of its next five to reach the district tournament, before finishing 4-7.
“I remember how the kids responded,” said Lehman. “Xs and Os-wise, we didn’t change anything. We just started playing, and playing as a team. It wasn’t the competition either. This year, I see such a great, positive carry-over. I see it this year.
Annville-Cleona’s opening day roster will include six seniors, 12 juniors, 13 sophomores and freshman Noah Myers. The Little Dutchmen will open the 2014 campaign on Friday, August 29th, at home to Biglerville.
“For what we had and what we have now, this is a nice setting,” said Lehman, looking out over his kingdom. “It’s a neat atmosphere for a football game. We’re working on a bigger weight room. Our maintenance staff is super. They take care of us. I’ve had great coaches before, great staffs before, but we have a super staff now. Mike Miller, ‘Het’ (Frank Hetrick), Matty Gingrich, Greg Herr, Shaun Webb, Rob Eisenhauer, they’re all great guys and great coaches.
“On Friday nights, I still get a lump in my stomach,” continued Lehman. “Weeknights I wake up at 2 a.m. thinking about things which will make us better. I still enjoy it. How much longer can I do it? I don’t know. These types of kids make it easier to stay.”
Friday, Aug. 29 – BIGLERVILLE, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 5 – at Hamburg, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept, 12 – at Schuylkill Valley, 7 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 18 – DONEGAL, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 26 – at Elco, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 3 – EPHRATA, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 10 – KUTZTOWN, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 17 – NORTHERN LEBANON, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 31 – at Pequea Valley, 7 p.m.