What’s the one ingredient the Chambersburg football team desperately needed coming into the 2018 season?
Coming off 1-9 and 0-10 seasons, a more athletic and deep team needed to find out if it could win at this level. The Trojans found out quickly that they could, resulting in a 6-1 start, a fine 7-4 season, a trip to the playoffs and a community and school that could be proud of the program again.
What’s the one ingredient that could spell trouble for Chambersburg when the 2019 season rolls around?
I know, I know, that sounds crazy. But it’s not far-fetched, and coach Mark Luther is aware of the potential trap.
“No question, we have to keep the kids grounded,” Luther said. “There will be a whole different level of expectations next year. People will be asking, ‘Can they go 10-0?’ In reality, we’re still not as good as we can be — we have to be able to eliminate the dumb mistakes that cost us when we’re playing good teams.”
The reason for the optimism is pretty obvious. Chambersburg should return at least nine starters on offense and at least nine starters on defense.
That’s almost unheard of at any level of football.
Luther said, “I’ve never had a team with this many players coming back. You could even say we have 10 of 11 starters back on both sides, depending on how you look at it. And I believe realistically we have eight to 10 sophomores who can make an impact on the field next year.”
The Trojans opened the season with two senior starters, Tucker Karn as a two-way lineman, and Andrew Shetter at middle linebacker. By the middle of the season, Brady Hughes, Tanner Hunt, DaQuan Rogers and Levi Mixell were making healthy contributions.
But all of the other top players are juniors, including Terrell Williams, who was a terror at linebacker and tight end in the first three games until he suffered a season-ending injury.
Here is where a note of caution can be thrown into the mix. Of the seven wins this fall, only three were blowouts, and even the 48-28 win at Altoona was close in the fourth quarter. The Carlisle win was almost a miracle, and the Trojans caught Cumberland Valley in a rare down year.
Among the losses, State College, Harrisburg and Central Dauphin were decisive, although it felt like Chambersburg could have, and maybe should have, beaten Manheim Township in the playoffs.
And the Mid Penn Commonwealth is always going to be a slug fest.
OK, now we’ll return to the positive side of this story.
With all of that talent and experience returning, what are Luther’s goals for the offseason?
“No. 1, we need to work on our physical strength,” he said. “We have to get in the weight room and really do the work. And then, the staff will have to use the offseason to expand the things we’re doing on offense and defense.
“The kids coming back showed we have some base plays that we’re good at, but by the end of the season, other teams were stopping us. So on offense, we need to add some wrinkles. On defense, we can play faster and we can add some variations with our front and blitzes.”
The players seem to be buying in.
Minutes after falling 20-17 to Manheim Township in the first round of the playoffs, safety Kyere Morton said, “We know we can be back here next year. We have a lot of upcoming sophomores who can make plays for us. We’ve already talked about how much work we need to do in the offseason, especially in the weight room.”
Running back Keyshawn Jones said, “This year was just a stepping stone to building the program to where we can win games like this. We’ll be back.”
The coaching staff can’t wait to get started. They are meeting Sunday to look at film and self-scout their own team, looking for ways they can improve.
“When we start in August, we should be going 100 miles per hour, and not just with the basics,” Luther said.
The players and coaches will have some time to savor their success, however. They’ll be in the annual Christmas parade, hoping to thank the fans for their support.
They might even be doing some recruiting. After all, Hughes, Hunt, Rogers and Mixell weren’t on the team last year and made big contributions as seniors. And nothing attracts athletes like joining a winning team.
Luther said, “The offseason is tough — long days and no games to play. I’m curious to see how the kids’ attitude will be. In the past, they had nothing to grab onto mentally, but after making the playoffs, they understand that it was right there for the taking.
“It’s something tangible to strive for. I hope that gives them the drive and motivation to do the extra things so they can go farther next year.”
So, yes, there’s an excellent chance for an outstanding season in 2019. But it won’t be handed out, it will have to be earned over the next nine months.
I can’t wait.