LEBANON – From the outside looking in, things aren’t always what they appear to be.
To the casual observer, it may seem like the Lebanon football squad will struggle to make up for the losses of graduated prolific seniors Mark Pyles, Jeremy De La Cruz and company.
But what if this current crop of Cedars has something to prove, something like they have the ability to be successful on their own? What if this year’s edition of Lebanon High already knows what it takes to win?
What if last season’s Cedars really arrived a year early? What if this year is actually Lebanon’s year?
What the Cedars lost in quality from 2013, they will be looking to make up for in quantity in 2014. Lebanon High’s senior class of 18 is the largest Gerry Yonchiuk has had in his nine years as the program’s head coach.
And not only is the class experienced, it’s also balanced, tough and fast.
“As freshmen, they played football all weekend long,” said Yonchiuk of his current 12th-graders. “They have such a passion for the game. As sophomores, we started six on a team that didn’t win a game. They took their growing pains. But they were fun to coach because they wanted to get better. They absorbed everything. Last year, we felt like we were a year away. It’s a night-and-day difference from where they were compared to where they are now. Our senior class has a lot of team speed. They can pick and run.
“Yeah, I think they kind of feel people think we’re not going to be good because Mark (Pyles) graduated,” continued Yonchiuk. “They kind of look at it like, ‘Hey, we were a part of that deal. Now this is our senior year.’ I think they use that as a motivation. But they know they have to do it on their own.”
And Lebanon’s junior class is nearly as large as its senior class. From the Cedars’ roster of 44 student-athletes, they return nine starters on offense and eight on defense.
“We can compete,” said Yonchiuk. “When you have competition for positions, it’s going to make you as a player better. We’ve never had nine good linemen. It keeps us fresh. We’ve not always been the most physical team, but with our quickness, I really like the make-up of our team. I always feel like we’re the underdog, but our guys will always play hard.
“I think the closeness is one of our strengths,” added Yonchiuk. “It’s a uniquely close team, and it comes from the seniors. It’s essentially the same team as last year, minus two key pieces.”
To fill Pyles’ now legendary shoes, Lebanon High will turn to athletic 6-0 sophomore Cody Kissinger, who edged senior Justin Martin in a tight preseason battle for the starting quarterback job. The Cedars will look to use their talented supporting cast to manage the game as Kissinger develops.
“I think this year our defense will be more of a strength than our offense,” said Yonchiuk, in a bit of a revelation. “If we can win games on defense and special teams, we’ll come around offensively. It’s tough to replace a guy like Mark, but it’s not like Cody’s going to have to do it on his own. We’ll definitely be more balanced offensively. We may run it more than we pass it.
“It’s (LHS’s Air Raid offense) fun to play,” continued Yonchiuk. “It’s the old expression, ‘Basketball on Grass’. Many guys get touches. You don’t just hand it to a back. There is balance. From that standpoint, I think it’s huge.”
In addition to managing games, Kissinger’s main responsibility will be getting the ball into the hands of a stable of thoroughbreds. Those horses go by the names of senior captain Luke Eisenhour, shifty senior Omel Francois, 12th-grader Nick Negron, who caught 13 touchdown passes last season, junior Alexander Maldonado-Hernandez, track star Jeronimo Rodriguez, explosive Khaleem Garynewkirk, junior Malik Hunter, senior Xavier Baez, junior Jonathan Maldonado, junior back Jan Suarez-Torres, senior leader Erik Peiffer, senior Demond Seabrook, hard-nosed junior Luke Fureman, senior De’Andre Quiero, junior Austyn Yerger and junior Davian Perez-Silva.
“The first thing I want to accomplish is to have a winning season,” said Yonchiuk. “The league (Section Two of the Lancaster-Lebanon League) gets tougher. The schedule gets tougher. But we want winning to be contagious. Hopefully we’re a tough out. We’ll never be the hunted, but we’d like to go out and hunt.
“I really believe the program is getting better in every facet,” Yonchiuk added. “I’m fortunate to have the coaching staff I have. With the expectations, I think we’re improving up and down the program. The numbers of coaches to students is good. We’re demanding, but I think the players appreciate that, and I think that makes them want to work harder.”
The Cedars are stacked with big, strong, tough guys up front, a fact that should translate well to the defensive side of the ball. Lebanon will build its lines around three-year starter Connor Cummins, hard-working junior Lucas Imm, returning starter Marcus Jimenez, returning starter Jose Anazagazty-Fernandez, promising sophomore Khalique Washington, returning starter Gian Fabian, senior tackle Elijah Navarro, junior Alan Cooper, senior Dwayne McQueen, senior Holden Gates and sophomore Trevor Armpriester.
“It started with the Cedar Bowl, where we played competitive,” said Yonchiuk of a 2013 campaign that included a 7-4 overall mark and an appearance in the District Three Class AAAA tournament. “I knew we were right there in terms of turning the corner. Beating Northern Lebanon in overtime may have been the turning point. Now confidence is back, and the belief kicked in. And every time we lost, we rebounded.
“I think there has to be carry-over from that, just like there’s carry-over from an 0-10 season (in 2012),” continued Yonchiuk. “We’re just trying to build a program with the guys who are in it. I think it does carry over. We know how to win, now let’s carry that over.”
2014 Lebanon High Football Schedule
Friday Aug. 29 – Cedar Crest High School ( CEDAR BOWL), Lebanon Alumni Stadium, 7:00PM
Friday Sep. 05 – @ Northern Lebanon HS, Northern Lebanon HS, 7:00PM
Friday Sep. 12 – Eastern Lebanon Co Sr HS, Lebanon Alumni Stadium, 7:00PM
Friday Sep. 19 – * @ Cocalico Senior High School, Cocalico Senior High School, 7:00PM
Friday Sep. 26 – * Manheim Central, Lebanon Alumni Stadium, 7:00PM
Friday Oct. 03 – * @ Solanco High School, Solanco High School, 7:00PM
Friday Oct. 10 – * Lancaster Catholic HS ( HOMECOMING), Lebanon Alumni Stadium, 7:00PM
Friday Oct. 17 – * Garden Spot, Lebanon Alumni Stadium, 7:00PM
Friday Oct. 24 – * @ Lampeter−Strasburg HS, Lampeter−Strasburg HS, 7:00PM
Friday Oct. 31 – * @ Elizabethtown Area High School, Elizabethtown Area High School, 7:00PM