BY JEFF FALK
ANNVILLE – Think of the Annville-Cleona football team as a jigsaw puzzle. The Little Dutchmen have all the pieces, but right now they’re scattered all over some gridiron-shaped card table.
The first thing A-C must do is identify the four corners, the pieces which will hold the finished puzzle together. From there the Little Dutchmen, can locate the straight ‘edges’, which, when connected to the corners, will give their team form.
The next step involves placing liked colored pieces in a group, matching them up and interlocking them with one another. Warning here: don’t force pieces together that weren’t designed to accommodate one another, they’ll only cause the puzzle to fall apart later.
The rest is just patience and persistence. But if one follows these instructions, the finished product could turn out to be a work of art, a masterpiece – one quite possibly worthy of framing.
“Football has so many situations,” said Annville-Cleona head coach Terry Lehman, the man ultimately responsible for piecing the puzzle together. “Maybe our roles are going to match the situations. Games have different situations. It’s going to be one big jigsaw puzzle. We always want to put our best 11 players on the field.
“Last year we had a very nice team,” Lehman continued. “We had some good players. But we weren’t very physical. And we weren’t a very good team. We had some nice players, but we didn’t have a team.”
With so many already in place, it may be that Anthony Pletz is the final piece to A-C’s puzzle. Pletz, who started at quarterback at Elco last year, transferred to Lebanon Catholic and is now a full-fledged Little Dutchman, thanks to their football co-op with the Beavers.
Currently, Pletz is pushing versatile junior Mitch Rodkey for playing time at quarterback. Rodkey, who was the Little Dutchmen’s leading receiver in 2011, is more of a rushing quarterback, while Pletz is a traditional pocket QB.
Given the ‘option’, old-school Lehman would prefer to keep the ball on the ground than put it in the air. But necessity has a way of bringing out the flexibility in all of us.
“Mitch is a self-motivator,” said Lehman. “He might be our strongest kid on the team. He lives in the weight room. Someone asked him about Anthony Pletz and he said, ‘It’s just going to make me work harder.’
“You could say that (Rodkey is more a runner and Pletz is more of a passer),” Lehman continued. “But by the same token, Mitch can throw the ball, and Anthony makes some nice reads (with his feet). I asked both of them, ‘Do you have any problem playing another position?’
“We had a nice team and then we got Anthony. It’s going to get both of them on the field more. As coaches, we’re just kind of experimenting.”
Of course, the Little Dutchmen have some other pieces as well. Annville-Cleona features nine returning starters on defense and seven on offense.
Annville-Cleona is more experienced than the four seniors on its roster might suggest.
“I’m more concerned about our defense than our offense at this point,” said Lehman. “Offensively, we have some good players, some good weapons. Our personnel suits our offense. On our offensive line, we have a few holes. Defensively, the question is: ‘Can we stop somebody?’ We didn’t do that last year.
“Things have been going really good,” added Lehman. “The excitement level is there and the work ethic is different. This year wasn’t a struggle at all for me. My level of excitement this year is higher than it’s been. The kids have me excited.”
Annville-Cleona junior tailback Quentin Hall, who flashed signs of competence last season, is poised for a break-out season. The Little Dutchmen also have athletic pieces Adam Connor, a senior end/DB, junior back Taylor Prentice, senior Tanner Fitting, senior lineman Nat Hughes and junior lineman Brandon Boger at their disposal.
“Consistency comes from doing it more,” said Lehman. “It comes from being a starter as a sophomore. To get to that point, you’ve got to pay your dues. We can see the difference in the kids. It puts us ahead. Our kids are one step ahead.
“I’ve got to see it (the physicality),” Lehman added. “I see kids who act physical, but who aren’t. Then there’s kids you’re not sure of and they keep going and keep going.”
And it appears that this so-called Lebanon Catholic experiment continues to benefit both schools. In addition to Pletz, Catholic students Mike Marakowski, a junior lineman, and John Groh, an athletic sophomore end, will contribute to the Little Dutchmen’s success.
“They helped last year,” said Lehman of his Beavers. “They’re good kids. John got playing time as a ninth grader. He’s a like-able kid, and he’s an athlete. Mike Marakwoski is one of our physical leaders. They’ve been here lifting and working out all summer.
“I see the work ethic as one of our strengths,” continued Lehman. “That was apparent in February. At practice, it’s been great. It’s been a super bright spot. In our first nine practices, we had eight good ones and one not-so-good one. They’re (his troops) on line. I’m waiting for the (stuff) to hit the fan, but it hasn’t yet.”
All this optimism has made Annville-Cleona’s 1-9 season in 2011 a distant memory. It’s an optimism that will undoubtedly carry over to the Little Dutchmen’s season opener with Tri-Valley on Friday, August 31.
“I’m at the point that, after last year, my main goal is we have to win our first game,” said Lehman. “No looking ahead. No ‘we want to make districts’. We want to play physical and we want to play together. That’s it.
“You never really carry over the bad parts of a season,” Lehman continued, “you carry over the good things. We start fresh against Tri-Valley on the 31st. I haven’t heard anything from the kids. We talk about our goal being the first game. We have to win that first game. We have very short-termed goals. If you reach them, great. If you don’t, you can set other ones.”
“More’s better,” Lehman said, “but too much isn’t good either. We’re a small school. We have our classes. We have four seniors. But we’re going to play a varsity schedule, a JV schedule and a junior-high schedule.”