ANNVILLE -It’s back to the drawing board for the Annville-Cleona football program. The Little Dutchmen are starting over, from scratch.
This season, Annville-Cleona will be emphasizing the fundamentals and teaching on the fly. Some of the things that the Little Dutchmen need to know can only be gleaned from doing.
From a historical standpoint, the undertaking will be massive. The learning curve is steep and there will be setbacks along the way.
But the curious Little Dutchmen are quick studies, and the task master knows the subject material well. Yet, it should be noted that time and patience will be required.
“If you had asked me last week, I would’ve said that the progress has been absolutely amazing,” said Annville-Cleona head coach Matt Gingrich. “If you had asked me yesterday, I would’ve said we’re never going to win a game. For us to have a very good practice, it’s not difficult. But we do not win by being perfect, we win by being perfectly aggressive. But we aren’t even getting to that point. If we can get them (his players) to know what to do, I think they’re going to be aggressive.
“If I had last year’s group this year, it wouldn’t be bad,” continued Gingrich. “I’ve got to teach everything, and I mean everything. The biggest struggle is all the combinations of all the precautions related to COVID-19. These kids are trying their hardest. We have some kids who could play, who never played football before.”
So, Annville-Cleona is facing a rebuilding project in the midst of a pandemic.
The Little Dutchmen have lost as many as 30 student-athletes recently, mostly to graduation from last season. While it’s part of the cylclical nature of high school sports, that’s a lot for a small school.
The Little Dutchmen return a single starter from last season, on each side of the ball.
“We have three or four positions where we have an understanding of what we can do with,” said Gingrich. “We are still in the process of finding out who is playing where. The biggest thing we started with was getting better.
“Unfortunately, last season has had very little carry-over to this team, because of the number of kids we lost,” added Gingrich. “We lost about 30 kids from the program, for a variety of reasons. It’s legitimately back to Square One.”
The 2019 campaign was one for the record books for Annville-Cleona football.
After going 6-3 in their section of the Lancaster-Lebanon League, and 7-3 overall, the Little Dutchmen recorded their first District Three playoff win in program history. It was also Annville-Cleona’s second consecutive appearance in the postseason.
But, it wasn’t without its challenges.
“I remember that it was one of the toughest years I had in coaching,” said Gingrich. “The expectations were so high and we did have a very good summer camp. But it was very, very, very stressful. I remember the car accident (involving three A-C players), and how those kids came together over it.
“I’m nothing if not a perfectionist, so I also remember the losses,” Gingrich added. “There were three games that haunted me. It was a dogfight all year. But, at the end, winning that playoff game made it all worth it.”
Right now, there’s a pretty good quarterback battle for A-C pratice reps being waged between junior Jacob Mills and sophomore Gavin Keller. If or when either one emerges as the starter, he will have the likes of sophomore Alex Long, junior Chase Maguire, senior Drew Eby, junior Ethan Missimer, senior Kenny Schaeffer, junior Rogan Harter and sophomore Phoenix Music to get the ball to.
Little Dutchmen senior Mac Plummer is probably the best place-kicker Lebanon County has ever produced.
“I’m concerned about the quarterbacks because they haven’t been hit yet,” said Gingrich. “We’ll see when the bullets start flying who’s ready to go. I’m worried about our tight-ends, and I’m really concerned with our defensive backfield depth.
“But I like the depth of the linemen we have,” Gingrich continued. “We do have some bodies and the effort is good. I really like our running backs. Whether they gain a lot of yards or not, a lot of things have to happen. And I have the best kicker in the state.”
The big guys up-front will be headed by junior Ethan Schriver. He will be the main brick in an offensive wall that will also feature some combination of senior Hunter Nelson, senior Kyle Black, senior Matt Nace, junior Carter Dodson and sophomore Josh Lindsay.
“Honestly, I want to win more than we lose,” said Gingrich. “If we do that, it’ll be a pretty successful season. I’ve never stressed about losing. I want to go out there and compete and work hard.”
Annville-Cleona’s numbers – a total roster of 37 competitors, made up of nine seniors, 12 juniors and 16 sophomores – are down a bit, but comparable to other school its size. The Little Dutchmen will open its abbreviated season with two tough road tests, September 18th at Donegal and September 25th at Elco.
“It’s tough right now,” said Gingrich of the overall state of his program. “We don’t have a youth program, and it stinks. People don’t realize all the work a single individual or two does. We’re seeing the remnants of it now. We’re in the days of the specialization of sports. Team sports aren’t emphasized as much as they used to be. It scares me. Football is community. The lessons football have taught me, I can never pay back.”
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