PALMYRA – Football is special. It’s not like other scholastic athletics.
In many sports, the emphasis is on skill and talent. But football rewards physicality and aggression and attitude.
It’s an approach that the Palmyra football program seems to have figured out. What the Cougars have also learned is that the best way to pull it off is together.
Under head coach Chris Pope’s watch, the Cougars have built a tradition of flying under the radar, relying on hard work, year-long improvement and unity.
“You want to see your team come together and improve,” said Pope. “You want to see your team come together and be aggressive on the field. You’ve got to feel like you can count on each other. You want that certain temperament. You have to have that mix, that mentality, that aggressive nature.
“I feel good about the program,” continued Pope. “But it doesn’t feel like we’ve gotten back to normal yet. COVID-19 threw everything out of whack. But I feel good about the 48 guys we have. We did have a losing record last year, but we finished strong and it was representative of where the program is at.”
There is a quiet confidence surrounding the 2021 version of the Palmyra football program, a cautious optimism. In some ways, with more than 20 seniors making up approximately half the of their roster, this is the Cougars’ year.
“We have a good mix,” said Pope. “I think we have a team that if it reaches its potential could be in the playoff mix. If we reach our potential. We’ve got to get better each week. We have a number of good teams on our schedule.”
In 2020, Palmyra overcame a COVID-19-related slow start to play its best football at the end of the season. After beginning 0-4, the Cougars won three of their last four contests to finish 3-5.
“What I remember is a real hard start, and we lost four in-a-row,” said Pope. “But what was really special was that we had some good leaders. It would’ve been easy to fold, to not show up. But at the very end, we beat Northern and they were a good football team. I think last year’s team was really resilient.
“Improvement is something I’m looking for from every person,” added Pope. “I don’t look at where we start. We need to see improvement each week.”
Palmyra returns six starters on offense and six starters on defense. But it will be the big guys up front that will take the Cougars as far as they can go.
Center Jordan Blauch is the leader of the Palmyra linemen, a group that also features Kyle Chapin, Luke Gaugler and Daniel Steskal.
“It usually falls somewhere in between (starting a season anew and the carry-over from the previous year),” said Pope. “Beating Northern has given us a good feeling and an expectation for success. In team sports, no one cares about yesterday. But you’ve got to keep an eye on the past.
“This year was unlike the past because we had spring football and we went to team camp at LVC (Lebanon Valley College),” Pope added. “We have a good idea of what our strengths are and where we need work. If you want to regularly compete at a high level, there’s going to be carry-over.”
Jordan Wamsher, an athletic senior with a strong arm, has emerged as Palmyra’s starting quarterback. With Richie Kowalski, Tim Hall, Jacob Deimling, Anthony Mansfield, Brady Holwig and Jase Jones, the Cougars are well stocked with skill people on offense and defense.
“Our strength is up front, on both sides of the ball,” said Pope. “That’s where we have our most returners. I think all-around we need to work on being more consistent with our tackling.”
The potential effects that COVID-19 could have on the 2021 season remains the proverbial elephant in the room. Lebanon County teams aren’t talking about it much publicly, but behind the scenes they’re taking every precaution possible to assure themselves of a full and healthy season.
“Games have already been affected,” said Pope. “We’re not even in school yet and you’re already seeing the effects. This thing (the new strain) spreads faster. For us football coaches, it’s an issue. It can be a concern, with playing games and giving seniors their final opportunities. The question becomes, ‘What can we do to play all of our games and get our seniors their due?’ I just want to get us through this season.”
Solanco, AWAY, Non-ConferenceFri, 8/277:00pm
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