FREDERICKSBURG – From one extreme to the other, it’s been all or nothing for the Northern Lebanon football team lately. No in-betweens.
When it comes to winning and success, the Vikings have either been hot, or not. Perhaps what they really need is a little middle ground first, and there’s no better time for that than the present.
A shortened 2020 campaign dripping with pandemic complications will provide Northern Lebanon an opportunity to take a step forward, towards past glories.
The Vikings are coming off back-to-back 1-9 campaigns, seasons beset with injuries and low numbers. Recently, Northern Lebanon has lost control of the line of scrimmage, struggling to both run the ball and stop the run.
In 2017, the Vikings went 9-1. That year marked the third in four seasons that Northern Lebanon captured a Lancaster-Lebanon section championship and qualified for the District Three postseason.
The contrast has been startling.
“Our goal is to win the section,” said Northern Lebanon head coach Roy Wall of a revamped Section Four. “That’s our goal every year, whether we’re 1-9 or 9-1 the year before. We’re playing all the section games early, and the realignment is going to make things different. But I think that’s going to make us competitive. We have to figure out our own identity.
“I see a lot of promise in this group of kids,” added Wall. “It’s been awhile since we’ve had that swagger. I think we’re slowly starting to get it back. But we have a team that can back it up.”
“We don’t want to lose a game,” said junior Kalani Adams, one of Northern Lebanon’s most promising returners. “We want to go 7-0. I don’t care who we play. We have a lot of returners, we have a lot of experience and we push each other. I’m tired of losing.”
Two telling stats about Northern Lebanon’s 2019 season are that the Vikings surrendered a whopping 450 total points, and that they only gained 300 yards on the ground. For them to return to their old form, both of those have to change.
But the Vikings did enjoy their moments last year, and that’s what Northern Lebanon is looking to build upon this season.
“There is a carry-over,” said Wall. “Last year we had 23 kids out, and we only dressed 17 for the first game. We had kids miss a total of 70 games the entire season. I had more ankle injuries than I did in my previous 30 years in coaching.
“But we started finding our identity,” continued Wall. “Now, we’ve moved some kids around. Sometimes you’ve just got to chalk it up to the football gods. But we’re definitely building on that.”
“As a team, during the off season, we got more kids out, we got in the weight room and we worked hard,” said senior quarterback Nate Shirk. “We made sure we got our work in. We really wanted to work on the defensive side of the ball. Last year, it was atrocious.”
This season, Wall and his staff are working with 35 student-athletes. Northern Lebanon returns six starters on offense, five on defense and seven linemen who started at least one game last year.
The Vikings sport a lot of experience for a roster that is predominantly junior- and sophomore-laden.
“Our thing this year is that we have to step up and play better defense,” said Wall, who’s compiled a 46-57 overall mark in Fredericksburg. “It’s football 101. We have to run the ball and stop the run. If we do that, we’re going to be more successful than we were last year. Among our front eight, I’m looking to play seven people one way.”
“Our goal is to be section champions,” said senior Arthur Shirk, another one of the Vikings’ emotional leaders. “We’re getting better. We’ve got something to prove. We’ve got real strength in our numbers.”
Adams, A. Shirk and junior Ryan Lutz will anchor the Vikings up front. N. Shirk will call the signals, set the offense in motion and be surrounded by skill kids junior Ethan Ebersole, senior Rasheed Beldor, junior Tyler Wolfe, junior Levi Ditzler and junior Devin Barker.
Sophomores Dylan Byerly and Blaze Watson will help insert new life into the Vikings’ attack.
“I think our athleticism is a strength,” said Wall. “We’re pretty athletic across the board. We have a really strong nucleus in the junior and sophomore classes. I think they’re going to open some eyes.
“We’re three weeks in and we don’t need to bring more kids out,” Wall continued. “We’re not in that situation this year. They just have to learn how to win. We have to learn how to play football. We have to learn how to play with a lead. We have to develop a team atmosphere.”
“We just wanted to make sure we got the kids out,” said Adams. “We go full out in practice, so we’ll be game-ready. We’ve been playing together and we have this chemistry. That’s a good thing that we’ve got going.”
Northern Lebanon will open its abbreviated, seven-game schedule on Friday, September 18th, with a non-league home date against Lebanon. A week later, the Vikings will jump into their L-L Section Four season.
“We’re taking the approach that we want to control the things we can control, and take what comes our way,” said Wall. “We’re on our fourth different practice plan. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get the season in. Stuff is happening all the time. We’re just trying to make the best of it. I tell our players that the only things they can control are your attitude and effort. If you give the maximum effort, it means you have a good attitude.”
“We’re trying to block out all the noise,” said N. Shirk. “This is a whole new group. We have a new mentality.”
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