BY JEFF FALK
ANNVILLE – At Annville-Cleona, they really know their cycles.
Not so much their bicycles as their tricycles and quad-cycles. For the Little Dutchmen, it’s less about spokes, tires and handlebars, and more about taking your lumps, growing and then reaping your rewards.
The fact that Annville-Cleona is the smallest football-playing school in Lebanon County makes it more susceptible to those cranky cycles. Every three or four years or so, the stars align and an A-C group grows up right before our very eyes.
That year is here.
“We brought seven freshmen up to the varsity four years ago, and this is the core of that group,” said Annville-Cleona head coach Terry Lehman. “A lot of them are three-year starters. It’s time to put up or shut up. We went through our cycle. It’s time to do it now.
“I’m anxious,” Lehman continued. “I’ curious. I’ve been down this road before. I’m being protective of the kids in setting smaller goals.”
The Little Dutchmen are coming off a 2012 campaign in which it went a disappointing and may be a little underachieving 3-7. But it may have been a season to lead up to this one.
“Last year, we had an OK to nice team,” said Lehman, “but we had a tough schedule. Seven teams we played made the playoffs. We could’ve won some games we lost and we won a game we should’ve lost, But we’re hoping teams will say the same about us this season.
“There’s carry-over with certain personnel, but other than that there’s no carry-over,” Lehman added. “Or put it this way: I had two seniors at the end of the season on offense and two seniors at the end of the season on defense.”
Annville-Cleona will have its share of two-way players this season, but when one considers the fact that the Little Dutchmen have starters back in 18 of the 22 total offensive and defensive positions, he or she can’t help but be impressed. And A-C may be strong where all good teams are strong – the offensive and defensive lines.
“I think our offensive line is our strength,” said Lehman, who’s in his 27th season at the Little Dutchmen helm. “That’s one of the reason I’m putting (hyper-back, Mitch) Rodkey at tailback. We’ve been bigger, but we’re quicker and we’re a little bit meaner. We have some nice people up front. Mitch only needs a crack. He’s quick.
“What I really like about this group is their off-season work ethic,” continued Lehman. “The core of them in the off season were regulars in the weight room. You can see a difference in the kids.”
With senior Robbie Beidler at center, senior Geordan Barr at right guard, junior Josh Hartman at left guard, senior Mike Marakowski at left tackle, senior Brandon Boger at right tackle and junior John Groh at tight end, Annville-Cleona is experienced, skilled and versatile in the trenches.
“We go through our cycles,” said Lehman, who’s working with 35 student-athletes. “I would say that 80 to 85 percent of the teams we are playing are bigger than us. It is what it is.
“I think our program is in good shape,” he added. “It’s a neat town program. Our numbers are pretty steady.”
Rodkey, a lightning-fast threat to take it all the way every time he touches the ball, really came into his own last season as a junior. He took the majority of the snaps at quarterback last season, but should see more at tailback this season.
Rodkey and senior running back Quentin Hall have the potential to form a nice little 1-2 running combination, while junior Noah Conner, when he returns from injury, and senior Richmond Owusua, will lead interference from their fullback spots. When Rodkey isn’t under center, senior Zach Southall or sophomore Adam Fox will be.
The wide-out duties have been placed in the capable hands of senior Paxson Hayes, senior Taylor Prentice and senior Troy Alexander.
“Mitch is what colleges call an ‘athlete’,” said Lehman. “I could see him at wide out, punt returner or as a small college tailback. He’s solid, but he doesn’t have the size to carry the ball 30 times (in college). It’s our (the coaches’) job to make use of him.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Owusua, Beidler, Hartman and Boger will be asked to man the interior defensive line positions, flanked by Groh and junior Trace Seiple at the ends. Marakowski, Barr and Brandon Light have that ‘inside linebacker’ look, while Hayes and Prentice are LBs who will play in space.
Rodkey, Alexander, Southall, Hall and sophomore Alec Barr will comprise a talented defensive secondary. Senior Sam Soliday is a reliable place kicker.
“We need to stop the run,” said Lehman. “Offensively, we were OK last year. We just couldn’t stop anybody. We need to be meaner as defense.”
Annville-Cleona will kick off its 2013 campaign on Friday, August 30 with Tri-Valley
“Tri-Valley, our first game, that’s our only goal,” said Lehman. “That’s the only goal I’ll let the kids think about. You’ve got to walk before you do anything else.”