BY JEFF FALK
LEBANON – It’s player-friendly and fan-friendly. It instantly puts a defense on its heels.
It’s high-octane, quick-paced and rhythm-oriented.
But the best thing about the Air Raid offense is that it gives the Lebanon High school football team its best chance to win. Hope can never be a bad thing.
The Cedars’ Air Raid is a hybrid of the ‘run-and-shoot’ offense, the better looking and younger cousin of the ‘west coast’ offense. It is predicated on getting plays off fast, the quarterback getting the ball out of his hand quickly and getting athletes isolated in space.
“I was always intrigued by the ‘run and shoot’ offense,” said Lebanon head coach Gerry Yonchiuk, the architect of the Air Raid. “I came in here nine years ago and I decided I wanted to install it. But you can’t date it, you’ve got to marry it. What makes it unique for us is it’s no-huddle and we play fast.
“Some people would say it’s a disadvantage because it wears guys out – and that’s true if you’re not in shape,” continued Yonchiuk. “But if the other team can’t substitute, then it’s an advantage. It’s a track meet. It’s fun. You can’t get bored with it. There’s not an opportunity for the defense to get into a huddle. In a ten-minute practice period, I’d like to get 20 plays in. I want to play that fast.”
But here’s another advantage of the Air Raid, it’s flexible and adaptable. It can be tweaked to fit personnel.
This season’s version of Lebanon’s Air Raid offense will look different in that the ball will be run out of it more often. It’s a conscious decision made by Yonchiuk to take advantage of talented running back Malik Hunter and a budding offensive line.
“For Malik in particular, when you’ve got a thoroughbred, you’ve got to run him,” said Yonchiuk. “He’s a talented guy. He’s got good vision. He’s hard to tackle in space.
“But to be a great I-football team, you’ve got to have a great line,” Yonchiuk continued. “You’re as good as your offensive line. From one side to the other, this is the best line we’ve had. But they’ve got to prove it. They have the potential to make us successful. Malik will give people fits if they drop into pass coverage.”
The guys who will make Hunter and Danny Caricabeur and Markell Scarborough and Jan Suarez go are senior Lucas Imm, junior Khalique Washington, senior Gian Fabian and junior Trevor Armpreister. The emphasis will be on the ground, but don’t get the impression Lebanon has abandoned the pass.
“When that group (the offensive line) is healthy, they’re going to be pretty good. They’re athletic,” said Yonchiuk. “This group, they do have talent. If we can get on the same page, we’ll be OK. I like our speed. There’s play makers scattered around our roster. They’re blue-collared. When teams look at us on their schedules, they don’t circle Lebanon. I’m hoping our guys give us their A-plus game every week. I don’t think that our opponents will.
“I like the camaraderie of our guys,” added Yonchiuk. “They really seem to like each other. It’s almost like a ‘man down, extend a hand’ approach. I had a strong leader group last year. This team seems to blend together better. Maybe it’s the expectation put on them in the off-season. But if you get beat down, it can be a long season.”
The man at the controls of the Cedars’ Air Raid offense is junior Cody Kissinger. Though the 6-0, 180-pound Kissinger missed half of last season to injury, when he did play, he played well.
“Cody moves the team,” said Yonchiuk. “He did that last year. It was disappointing when he went down. He really has a pretty good understanding of the system. He’s a winner. He’s emotionally stable, but he demands the respect of his teammates. When he’s out there, he’s all business.
“When anybody plays us, they’re going to know at the final whistle that Lebanon gave them their best,” Yonchiuk added. “That approach gives our guys a chance to win. High school football is so mental. The mental approach for young guys is so important.”
Traditionally, Lebanon is fast and strong at the wide-out position, and this year is no exception. As receivers, the Cedars boast captain Luke Fureman, Jonathan Maldonado, Alex Maldonado and basketball players Shaquell Ortiz and Allen Escotto.
“We’ve been up and down in training camp,” said Yonchiuk. “We have a roller-coaster mentality. It’s a teeter-totter. It’s a little frustrating, some because we don’t have all of our parts defensively. I think we improve everyday. But your defense should be ahead of your offense. We need to be more consistent.
“We need to be more physical at the point of attack,” continued Yonchiuk. “When you get punched in the mouth, can you withstand that? You can’t be a passive football team. If you’re going to run the ball, you’ve got to have a little more toughness. Our weight conditioning has helped. I wanted to get stronger. I think you can actually get stronger in the season, if you make it a priority.”
But the Cedars’ prolific offense can only do its thing if it can get on the field. Lebanon will lean on its athleticism and the play of sophomore linebackers Josh Kauffman and Nick Bradley to contain, rather than control, opposing offenses.
“I think we’ve got to get the other team’s offense off the field on third down,” Yonchiuk said. “It’s going to be a ‘bend, not break’ philosophy. Third down is a big part of everything we’re doing. We’re trying to simplify our lineup and play fast.
“We haven’t set goals yet, only because we play our arch-rival in our first game,” continued Yonchiuk. “In District Three, I don’t think there’s a more meaningful game as far as rivalries go. It’s hard to think beyond it because everything is focused on it. Will we talk about it (goals)? Yes. The goal will be a winning season, because of our numbers and playing in Section Two (of the Lancaster-Lebanon League). If we didn’t take it one day at a time, I don’t know where we’d be. The future is now, and staying healthy will be key. But I like our chances each week. Our kids won’t quit, which is something I’m proud of.”
Lebanon High is coming off a 2014 campaign in which it went 3-7. With its numbers in the mid 40s, Lebanon will test out its ‘Cedar Strong’ motto when it takes on Cedar Crest at Earl Boltz Stadium in the season-opening Cedar Bowl on September 4.
“Last year was a little bit frustrating,” said Yonchiuk. “There were a couple of games we didn’t finish. Five-and-five sounds a lot better than 3-7, but it wasn’t meant to be. I think it does and doesn’t carry over to this year. The guys who played last year have got to know when they did and didn’t do. Having Cody back is a huge plus.
“The biggest thing we had last year was our lack of strength, which was so glaring,” concluded Yonchiuk. “We got pounded. Our off-season deal was the best its ever been, by far. Physically, we’re heck of a lot stronger.”
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2015 Lebanon High Schedule
|09/04||@Cedar Crest||7:00 PM||Cedar Crest High School|
|09/11||Northern Lebanon||7:00 PM||Lebanon High School|
|09/18||@Elco||7:00 PM||Elco High School|
|09/25 *||Cocalico||7:00 PM||Lebanon High School|
|10/02 *||@Manheim Central||7:00 PM||Manheim Central High School|
|10/09 *||Solanco||7:00 PM||Lebanon High School|
|10/16 *||@Lancaster Catholic||7:00 PM||Lancaster Catholic High School|
|10/23 *||@Garden Spot||7:00 PM||Garden Spot High School|
|10/30 *||Lampeter-Strasburg||7:00 PM||Lebanon High School|
|11/06 *||Elizabethtown||7:00 PM||Lebanon High School|
2015 Lebanon High Roster
|5||Malik Hunter||RB, OLB, MLB||Sr.||5-10||175|
|7||Cody Kissinger||QB, OLB||Jr.||6-0||180|
|11||Alex Maldonado||CB, WR||Sr.||5-9||140|
|32||Luke Fureman||WR, MLB||Sr.|
|50||Alan Cooper||DE, T||Sr.||6-4||190|
|52||Gian Fabian||T, DE||Sr.||5-11||230|
|65||Lucas Imm||C, DE||Sr.||6-2||270|
|Danny Caricabeur||RB, FS||Sr.|
|Edgar Garcia||G, NG||Sr.|
|James Apple||RB, MLB||So.|
|Jan Suarez||WR, CB||Sr.|
|Josh Kauffman||RB, MLB||So.|
|Julius Imm||QB, FS||Jr.|
|Louis Aquino||WR, FS||So.|
|Nick Bradley||C, MLB||So.|
|Phil Hillisheim||WR, CB||Jr.|
|Shaquel Ortiz||WR, DE||Jr.|