SOUTH LEBANON – Over the last six years, Cedar Crest has changed the climate, the culture of its football program. What the next step involves for the Falcons is becoming stronger physically and being able to compete with the top Class AAAAAA teams in District Three.
But the Coronavirus has thrown a monkey wrench into the mix, stunting Cedar Crest’s progression plan. Instead of aspiring towards their annual goal of qualifying for the district playoffs this season, the Falcons are just thankful to be playing the game they love.
“With COVID-19, we’re just tring to live in the moment, trying to get better and appreciating every day together,” said Rob Wildasin, who’s in his seventh season of heading the Falcons. “It’s just great to be out here with the kids. It’s great to see them together. It’s awesome for all of us. We’re appreciating every moment.
“I don’t know what this season is going to bring,” continued Wildasin. “We just keep practicing and playing. That’s our job. Everything else is above me.”
Since Wildasin took over, Cedar Crest has gone a combined 36-27 overall, which includes a 7-4 mark in 2019. In those six years, the Falcons have qualified for the District Three playoffs three times.
In the ten years before his arrival, Cedar Crest posted a combined record of 27-73.
“We as a staff are happy about a lot of things,” said Wildasin. “Each step gets more difficult. We have a good program established.
“I think the best thing has been getting the kids to compete and believe in themselves,” Wildasin continued. “That was the initial phase. Now we have to put in the work to take the next step to be in that upper echelon of teams (in District Three).”
Cedar Crest’s COVID-19-shortened, seven-game season features a September 18th home opener against perenially tough Manheim Central. But to qualify for this season’s four-team, District Three Class AAAAAA tournament, the Falcons have little room for error.
Should they fall short, the renewal of the annual Cedar Bowl grudge match with Lebanon on November 6th could be a nice consolation prize.
“With the district playoffs only taking four teams, that’s an unrealistic goal,” said Wildasin. “I think we’d almost have to go undefeated to make it. This year, we’re looking at each game as an opportunity. Every game is our season.
“It’s tough losing some of those non-conference games, games we thought were 50-50 games,” added Wildasin. “I think we can beat anybody, I really do. But we’re green enough to lose to anybody.”
While going 7-3 in the regular-season, 3-3 in Section One of the Lancaster-Lebanon League and then qualifying for districts, the Falcons really came together as a unit in 2019. But Cedar Crest’s weaknesses were exposed by Central Dauphin, during a 36-6 setback in the opening round of the playoffs.
“We were a sound football team,” said Wildasin. “We were led by a good group of linemen. We pieced it together and battled to seven wins. Some guys have experience, but it’s definitely a younger group this year. Experience helps in spots.
“When you lose offensive linemen, you know right away you’re going to have to replace some important pieces,” Wildasin added. “We knew the areas we needed to address.”
That rebuilding project up-front is currently being spear-headed by senior Cole Pennington, senior Zak Claman and senior Donovan Hain. The Falcons should get help from Max Scipioni, Dylan Stiver and Kyle Flowers in that area.
The development of the Cedar Crest offensive line will allow senior quarterback Chris Danz to do what he does best. Danz is a heady signal-caller who protects the ball, spreads it around and knows the offense.
“He’s very smart,” said Wildasin of Danz. “He makes great decisions. He’s very positive and calm. I love his demeanor out there.
“I think the kids really work well together,” continued Wildasin. “They’re all in it for the team. That makes it easy to coach, when you have team-first guys.”
First and foremost, Cedar Crest wants to take what the defense gives it, and pound the rock. With junior tailback Aadyn Richards, the Falcons are well-equipped to do so.
Outside, the Crest offense will feature the likes of senior Nate Brightbill, senior Tyrese Stewart, senior Dalton Reinhart, senior Christian Morales and junior Brayden Koehler.
“I think we’re doing good,” said Wildasin. “The kids are receptive. The kids have to be mature. I think they’re doing a nice job.
“We need to get better at any place we’re replacing a starter,” Wildasin continued. “I think the scrimmage (against Exeter) is going to show a lot. We haven’t hit another team yet. I think every school feels that way, that they’re going to learn a lot from that scrimmage.”
The Falcons return six starters on defense and four starters on offense. Of Cedar Crest’s 83-player roster, made up of student-athletes from grades nine-through-12, about 20 are seniors.
“People have to stop asking coaches and players if they want to play football,” said Wildasin, of the uncertain nature of the upcoming campaign. “It’s like asking a two-year if they want ice cream. I’m a social studies teacher. I don’t know.”
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