By Michael Bullock:
Coach: Kent Smeltz, 3rd season (25-9)
League/division: Mid-Penn Liberty
2019 record: 12-1 (9-0 Tri-Valley League)
Postseason: Beat Delone Catholic 36-28 in District 3 Class 2A championship. Lost to Southern Columbia 63-22 in PIAA Class 2A quarterfinals.
Passing: Comp-Att, Yards, TDs
Tyler Cleveland: 0-1, 0, 0
Rushing: Att-Yards, Avg, TDs
Chance Crawford (Mbg): 161-759, 4.7, 5
Receiving: Rec-Yards, Avg, TDs
Kyle Casner (Mbg): 25-518, 20.7, 5
Key returning players: Chance Crawford, sr., RB-DB (Millersburg); Tyler Cleveland, sr., QB-DB; Hayden Harner, sr., WR-OLB; Elijah Latshaw, sr., OL-DL (Mbg); Jaben Jury, sr., OL-DL (Mbg); Alex Gannon, sr., OL-DL; Dominic Fulkroad, sr., OL-DL; Bransen Byle, sr., OL-DL; Kyle Casner, sr., WR-DB (Mbg).
Outlook: While graduation definitely belted Smeltz’s prolific Trojans, the Millersburg upperclassmen now on the scene will help up front while the skills can provide plenty of pop. So, all is not lost as UDA shifts from the Tri-Valley League to the Mid-Penn’s freshly minted Liberty Division. Yes, Smeltz’s program is in transition. Yes, the rest of the Liberty will be looking to unseat the Trojans. Regardless, a football program that spans almost all of northern Dauphin County is not about to yield anything without a scrap.
3 Things to Know:
1. Trojans hoping to maintain momentum: Propelled by a senior-heavy squad featuring All-State QB Macklin Ayers (3,000 yards from scrimmage) and highly productive running back Jake Ramberger, Kent Smeltz’s Trojans collared the Tri-Valley League’s final crown, captured a District 3 Class 2A title and advanced to state play before encountering eventual state champ Southern Columbia. When it was over, 18 seniors played their final high school football games in Upper Dauphin orange and black. Now comes the test of plugging some less-experienced performers into some prime-time positions while trying to fend off the rest of the Mid-Penn’s determined Liberty Division rivals. “That’s one of the things we talked about [Sept. 18] at our last practice before [the Trinity] scrimmage,” Smeltz said. “There’s no magical potion out there. There aren’t these magical plays that we know and nobody else knows. It’s hard work. It’s as simple as that. It’s hard work. Do you put in the time? Are you willing to be focused at practice? Coaches have to put in the time to prepare, and players have to put in the time at practice to prepare for a game. It’s a grind. It is a grind. That’s the challenge. That senior class that we had last year, they certainly set the standard, and hopefully the underclassmen learned from that. We’re bringing in some kids from Millersburg that weren’t exposed to that, so that’s a little bit of a challenge. They’re very eager, but this is a new system for them.”
2. Year 1 of U.S. 209 cooperative agreement about to begin: Even though UD said so long to its sizable senior class, Smeltz’s Trojans definitely will benefit from the arrival of a number of former Millersburg players as a full-scale cooperative relationship gets underway. And since the Indians closed out 100-plus years of football by claiming a District 3 Class 1A championship and reaching states, those underclassmen who opted to continue their careers nine miles away will capably fill some of those existing holes. Chance Crawford is a dependable two-way back, while receiver Kyle Casner averaged just over 20 yards per catch and can run past plenty of defensive backs. Linemen Elijah Latshaw and Jaben Jury bring experience and bulk to the Trojans. Another player who could have helped plenty was versatile Caden Feaster, but he suffered a preseason knee injury and will be unavailable. Former Millersburg head coach Aaron Wright also has joined the UDA staff. “I don’t think there’s been any issue. They struggled the last few years, so they’re willing just to fall in line and do what we ask. That’s for the older kids, the juniors and seniors,” Smeltz said. “The underclassmen, it’s maybe been a little bit more of a shock to them how we do things; they’re not used to that. But the upperclassmen — ‘whatever Coach, whatever’ — are so willing to adapt and just do whatever we ask them to do. … I don’t think there’s been a total buy-in from the younger kids, but from the older kids there’s been buy-in from Day 1.”
3. Program A + Program B = UDA — and hopefully more success: While Smeltz & Co. would love to have more time to fine-tune the transition and fully incorporate the former Millersburg players into the Upper Dauphin way of doing things, that won’t be the case since the Trojans must open against perennial hammer Steel-High in a Mid-Penn crossover. Quite simply, UD is going from finishing one season against powerful Southern Columbia to opening another against dangerous Steel-High. Yikes! “Because of the Millersburg kids coming on to the team, we’re running a different offense and a different defense than what they’ve been used to — so it’s a big learning curve for them,” Smeltz said. “Once again, they’ve been trying really hard, but there’s nothing like experience. So, by the middle of the season I think we’ll be a much better team than we are at the beginning of the season, but opening up with Steel-High we’re not getting any type of leeway there. We’re going right into the lion’s den with the first game, so it’s concerning cause the kids just don’t have a lot of experience in our systems. We’re going to try hard and see what happens.”