Who’s ready for some football?
That is, of course, a rhetorical question. But the Lebanon Valley College Flying Dutchmen are beyond ready.
In 2020, Lebanon Valley College was reduced to conducting practices and other team activities without the chance of playing games. Then this spring, the Flying Dutchmen engaged in two unofficial intra-collegiate skirmishes.
“Last year was such a strange year. It was not normal,” said LVC head coach Joe Buehler. “Five of our seniors moved on at the end of the spring, but we also have a group back this year. Last year, we wanted our guys to have some sort of football experience. We got together as a group and spent the whole fall focusing on LVC football. In reality, the only way to get together was through football.
“When we got to the spring, the kids did a great job of following the rules,” continued Buehler. “We played two football games and we played well. The kids were loose. We played everybody, which doesn’t happen in real games. We’re taking some of that into this year. We think it’s something we learned about the evolution of football. It has changed the mentality of preparation.”
Lebanon Valley College has been playing football for 124 years. But last year, because of the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, the Flying Dutchmen did not compete in an official season for the first time since World War II.
Amid great anticipation, Lebanon Valley will open its 2021 campaign on Saturday, September 4 at 1 p.m., when it hosts Franklin and Marshall at Arnold Field. In 2019, LVC posted an overall record of 3-7.
“We went a whole year without having a regular training camp,” said Buehler, who’s in his seventh season at the Flying Dutchmen’s helm. “It took a little bit to get back into that routine. It was a long camp, a hot and humid one. It was a little bit of a grind, but we definitely got better.
“This week and next week will be the biggest periods of improvement for our football team,” added Buehler. “Are we ready to go? Yes. Do we still have improvements to make? Yes.”
On offense, Lebanon Valley College returns three starters from 2019, but ten starters from the spring season. On defense, the Flying Dutchmen return five starters from 2019, but ten from the spring.
“The number one positive is our character,” said Buehler. “These are some of the finest young men I’ve ever been around. And they carry themselves that way. On defense, the way these guys can get to the football is impressive. I think our defense is going to be good, the foundation of our team.
“I think my biggest concern is offensive consistency,” Buehler continued. “We can not go three-and-out. We have to move the football and not make mistakes. We’ve got guys who can make big plays. But we need to become consistent.”
The Lebanon Valley College football program has always featured a strong contingent of former Lancaster-Lebanon League players. But perhaps never as much as this season.
During the recently concluded training camp, the Flying Dutchmen staged a competition between freshman Braden Bohannon, a product of Elco, and Trae Devlin for the starting quarterback role. Buehler declined to identify who has emerged as the leader for the job.
Also expected to play key roles for Lebanon Valley this fall are former Lebanon Christian Academy graduate Andrew Olson at a receive spot, one-time Cedar Crest Falcon Nate Shaeffer on the offensive line, Annville-Cleona product Jeremy Bours as an athlete on offense, former Elco Raider Ryan Eshleman at tight end and one-time Elco Raider Erik Williams in the defensive backfield.
“It’s a pretty strong Lebanon County contingent,” said Buehler. “I think in past years, we’ve had a lot of Lancaster-Lebanon kids on our roster. But I’m not sure we’ve ever had this many who are going to make big impacts.
“I think for us, goals are a week-to-week thing,” Buehler added. “For me, if we can get to that 11th game, the season will be a success. They like playing together, so it’s kind of like, ‘Let’s extend the season’. That, to me, would be a marker of success.”
With Malachi Williams, Ian Murhon and Tim Ervey, Lebanon Valley is loaded at running back. Linebacker Tyler Lutz, tight end Joey Underwood, tackle Walker Klinger, receiver Cam Niemeyer, linebacker Dillon Estes, defensive end Brandon Brubaker and cornerback Grant Gaumer make the Flying Dutchmen both athletic and balanced.
“We’ve got to stay healthy,” said Buehler. “We’re going to hang our hat on our defense, but the offense has also got to do its part. The quarterback position dictates the consistency. They have talent, but it’s about eliminating big mistakes. We’re seeing good signs already.
“There are things we’ve accomplished within the program that don’t turn up in our win-loss record,” continued Buehler. “But unfortunately, that’s how we’re judged. We have the highest GPA (grade point average) in the conference (Middle Atlantic). I don’t deal with discipline issues. We recruit differently. We’re trying to become the very best men we can become. That makes it a lot of fun.”
Not unlike every season, ultimately Lebanon Valley will be graded on what it learned from last year. The COVID-19 pandemic provided the Flying Dutchmen with a life lesson that simply can’t be taught in a class room.
“It won’t be easy,” said Buehler. “I think there is an appreciation for the opportunities they (his players) get. We get to do these things. We don’t have to do these things. Our vaccination rate is very high. We’re higher than a lot of schools. I’m a pro-vaccination guy. I care about our football team. I put our football team first.
“Wearing masks helps our football team,” concluded Buehler. “We can’t control things out of our control. I think that’s an important lesson. So far, so good. We’ve had zero positives (tests) through the month of August. Nobody wants to be the guy that gets the program shut down. It’s not easy. It takes discipline.”