BY JEFF FALK
Twenty seasoned seniors, something to prove and a dynamic, gunslinger of a coach. Looks like the stars are aligning, signaling a very good season ahead for the Lebanon football team.
Yes, expectations are high in Cedar Land, but for good reason. Lebanon High features a plethora of talent, versatility and balance, and in Gerry Yonchiuk, a coach who knows how to put the pieces together.
Last season, Lebanon started 3-0, but ended 4-6. Along the way, the Cedars lost six straight games, all to Lancaster-Lebanon Section Two foes.
“Our goal is to have a winning season,” said Yonchiuk, the Cedars’ sixth-year head man. “We made the playoffs a few seasons back and I’m disappointed we weren’t able to accomplish something the last two years. The goal is to win Section Two. It’s wide open. I don’t ever remember a year where it’s (the championship) there for whoever stays healthy.
“I’m expecting senior-leadership to emerge in games,” Yonchiuk continued. “If you’re going to have a senior-dominated squad, you’ve got to perform like you’re a senior-dominated team. This is the most seniors I’ve ever had here.”
There should be carry-over from last to this year for the Cedars, but in a good way. With seven starters returning on offense and seven back on defense, Lebanon High is out to prove that 2010’s start was real and that its finish was a fluke.
“Yeah, I think last year does affect this year because we have so many starters back,” said Yonchiuk. “This team was undefeated in junior high. The starting point is there.
“Last season, we started off on fire and won our first three games, all non-league games,” continued Yonchiuk. “We lost a shootout with Lampeter-Strasburg. Our guys thought we arrived and we hadn’t. Then we went on a slide. We were one win away from getting in the playoffs. All we had to do was get one more. We were so close. But we’ve got to finish.”
Not only do the Cedars return quanitity, they also return quality. Steven Padillas, Adrian Krall, Kiev Gardner, Isaiah Baker, Tyler Antal, Drey Murray and even kicker Codey Short are all skilled skill people.
Lebanon also returns two quality linemen in Carlos Sepulveda and Aaron Cabinaw, and a very good linebacker in Jed Murray.
“One of our strengths is the knowledge of what we’re doing,” said Yonchiuk. “You’re always coaching, but their grasp of things allow you to move quicker. They understand our philosophy on both sides of the ball.
“I guess the part we need to shore up would be consistency on both the offensive and defensive lines,” added Yonchiuk. “But I can’t think of a better line coach in the country than coach (Carl) Liedtka. What he does, his ability to coach and get the most of kids. Consistently, we’re not 6-3, 250.”
What should be interesting – besides seeing how the season unfolds for the Cedars – will be Lebanon’s platoon situation and playing time at quarterback. Yonchiuk has vowed that senior Alex Trautman will share time with emerging sophomore Mark Pyles.
Trautman might be the most dynamic player in Lebanon County, intelligent, gutsy and a leader. Pyles, on the other hand, seems to be more of a pure, athletic, pocket passer.
“We’re going to play both,” said Yonchiuk. “Alex is an outstanding quarterback, but so is Mark. Mark reminds me of James Capello at his age. I’m a big baseball fan, and it’s like the Phillies. If you get two aces you want to play them both.”
Under Yonchiuk, Lebanon has traditionally been explosive on offense, but a bit porous on defense. It would seem that if the Cedars are going to contend for a section title and a District Three Class AAA playoff berth that they must shore up that side of the ball.
“That is the perception,” said Yonchiuk. “It’s not that we can’t stop people, it’s that we have so many pople going both ways. This year, we’re both physical and athletic.
“I would be disappointed if our kids didn’t feel like they can conted for the section championship,” Yonchiuk concluded. “But I’d be disappointed if everyone in the section didn’t feel like they could contend for the championship.”