By Michael Bullock:
Head coach: Cliff Pine (1st season)
League/Division: Mid-Penn Liberty
2019 season: 3-7 as an independent
Postseason: Did not qualify
Passing: Comp-Att, Yards, TD
Caden Stoner: 3-7, 47, 0
Rushing: Att-Yards, Avg, TD
Logan Miller: 68-250, 3.7, 1
Receiving: Rec-Yards, Avg, TD
Caden Stoner: 34-310, 9.1, 1
Key Returning players: Caden Stoner, sr, QB-DB; Grant Ellis, sr, WR-LB; Hunter Smith, sr, RB-LB; Caleb Wise, sr, RB-LB; Mason Line, sr, RB-DB; Logan Miller, sr, RB.
Outlook: Dipping back into league play for the first since Cliff Pine’s seniors were just beginning the eighth grade, the Rockets are flashing plenty of enthusiasm as they begin their quest for a Liberty Division crown. If they can quickly dissect what an unfamiliar collection of opponents tends to do, a versatile group of upperclassmen may pack more than enough athleticism to put teams under duress. The big question mark is whether a youthful collection of linemen can gel quickly enough in a truncated setting.
Three Things to Know:
1. Following a four-season hiatus, James Buchanan marking return to Mid-Penn Conference grid action: Assigned to a Mid-Penn Liberty Division that includes six former Tri-Valley League residents, Cliff Pine’s Rockets are hoping that the chance to compete for league supremacy and spots on all-star teams may provide a timely boost of high-octane fuel. Particularly since not one of JB’s players — unless they shipped in from a different school — has ever chased league gold. “Our juniors and seniors now understand the reason why we (left) the Mid-Penn,” said Pine, the Rockets’ first-year skipper. “We needed to rebuild and we were trying to get things turned around at James Buchanan. So, going back to the Mid-Penn and sitting in the division we’re in and seeing what it’s going look like, the morale’s high. We feel that we can be in this Liberty Division and these guys are hungry. I’m not going to lie, our guys are hungry and they’re coming out ready to play.” Plus, there won’t be any lengthy jaunts to distant venues such as Clarion or Albert Gallatin (Uniontown). “We’re not taking any three, three-and-a-half hour trips this year,” cracked Pine.
2. Pine not an unfamiliar face to JB’s anxious players: Pine may be in his first season as JB’s head coach, but he’s actually followed a similar path to his latest role as any of the Rockets’ home-grown personnel. Following an extended stretch at the youth football level — Pine spent eight to 10 seasons mentoring future Rockets — he spent the past two seasons fronting JB’s junior high program before his March appointment as David Miller’s successor. “Being able to know these kids and know their abilities and what their strengths and weaknesses are is a level up for me because I’ve known these kids for a long time. We all play a factor with each other and it comes together with the team, as a coaching staff, the athletes … everybody fits great as a whole. I think that’s one of the most important things this year for James Buchanan.”
3. Experienced group of skill players, but guys up front must come together: Although James Buchanan hopes to employ its experienced group of experienced skill people wherever it makes sense, the Rockets may not have as much versatility and flexibility in the offensive and defensive trenches. Yet even though JB may wind up fielding a number of sophomores and freshmen up front, Pine believes his youngsters are ready to go. “We’re trying to get the best 11 guys on the field on any given Friday night, so we’re going to move kids to where we feel they’re going to best support the team and do what’s best for the team and it doesn’t matter what position that is.” As for grooming those youthful linemen, Pine offered this: “Our upfront guys are young and getting them to gel with our skill guys, who are versatile, is (key). I have no doubt that we can do it. I’ve seen it done in our team sessions and it’s coming together, so I feel confident that it’ll happen on Friday nights.”