It’s been 9 1/2 months since the Chambersburg football team trudged off the field at Manheim Township in a driving November rain, having just dropped a 20-17 decision to the Blue Streaks in a District 3 playoff game.
Players made two things clear that night: They felt they should have won that game, and they fully expect to be back contending in the playoffs in 2019.
The season opener, at home against Greencastle-Antrim at 7 p.m. Friday, is now just days away and those expectations — for players, coaches and fans — are, if anything, even higher.
Let’s put it out there: The Trojans are loaded.
That is not a phrase typically associated with this program, but it fits. Here’s why:
- Chambersburg returns starters at a minimum of 18 positions, and the players picking up those other four positions played a lot last year.
- The Trojans went 7-4 in 2018, after coming off an 0-10 year. They have rediscovered the meaning of the word “confident.”
- The team has depth. Coach Mark Luther, on offense for example, believes he has four capable running backs, four quality tight ends, six decent receivers and eight linemen he is comfortable with.
- The senior class boasts around 20 players who are starting or are key subs. That class has been through the bad and the good and it is riddled with quality leaders.
Luther said, “We know there are high expectations for this team. But we’re not trying to hold them down; we actually want the guys to raise their expectations. We want the team to think they should be able to win every game.
“We have the makeup to be a football team that can be very successful. We have the tools in the toolbox; now we as a staff will have to use them correctly.”
Because Chambersburg has so many returning players back, the staff has been able to pick up where it left off last year, and can teach more technique and expand from the basics.
What that means is that on offense, the Trojans will be able to add more plays and give different looks to disguise their base plays in their spread scheme. On defense, the base 3-5-3 look will be a lot more comfortable for players and coaches after switching to it last year.
Chambersburg played fast last year, but its experience should allow it to play faster this year.
Luther said, “On offense, we have expanded the possibilities and we want to be more efficient in what we do. Last year was a new system on defense and the coaches and players learned as the season went on. Now I feel the players truly understand what we’re trying to do and where they’re supposed to be.”
Quarterback Brady Stumbaugh (6-foot-1, 170 pounds) is back to lead the offense. A year ago, Stumbaugh completed 90 of 185 passes (48.6%) for 1,356 yards, 11 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He also ran for 329 yards and scored nine TDs.
“Brady has gotten stronger and we want him to take control of the game,” Luther said. “You want your quarterback to be able to look pre-snap and make changes to the plays if needed. And his running the ball is a huge factor.”
Running back Keyshawn Jones (5-10, 185) was the focus of the offense last year and he produced in a big way — 1,567 yards (8.2 per carry) and 13 scores, plus 12 catches for 153 yards and a TD.
But there were games in which the defenses did everything possible to stop Jones. That’s why Luther wants to spread the ball around a little more.
“Keyshawn is obviously a big part of the offense,” Luther said, “but we need to do a better job of getting the ball to our other playmakers. We need to throw it downfield and get it out to the flat to expand the defenses. If we do, it will create opportunities inside for Keyshawn.”
Three other backs will get a share of the carries and targets, including seniors Kyere Morton (5-10, 200, 120 yards, 1 TD; 3-37 catches) and Tyler Luther (5-7, 155), and junior Jayden Jones (6-0, 180, 46 yards).
“Each of them offers some unique characteristics that will help our team,” Luther said.
In front of Jones and Stumbaugh is an experienced line, led by seniors Brock Harmon (5-11, 280) at right guard, Jake Corwell (5-10, 210) at right tackle and Tucker Eiker (5-10, 235) at left tackle.
The other players in the mix are juniors Chase Shaffer (5-10, 205) at left guard or center, senior Wyatt Hull (6-0, 230) at guard, junior Joey Fuller (6-3, 260) at tackle, senior Tyrion Hodges (5-10, 265) at guard, senior Nathan Hoffeditz (6-3, 275) at center and senior Mason Yeager (6-1, 230) at tackle.
Luther said, “We’re not all 6-4, 260, but I like our maturity on the line. Brock is a good leader and you can see we have some confidence. We went all 11 games last year with the same five and that’s unusual. We have the depth this year if needed.”
Tight end is a position of strength for Chambersburg; in fact, it’s almost an embarrassment of riches.
“I’d bet there a lot of teams that would die for even one of these guys,” Luther said. “We have to figure out how to utilize them on Friday nights so they’re successful.”
All seniors, they include Garner Funk (6-3, 240), Terell Williams (6-2, 230), Bryce Diller (6-1, 250) and Carmen Pompeii (6-1, 220). Funk had 14 catches for 211 yards and 2 TDs, Williams had 8 for 185 and 2 TDs (in just 2 1/2 games) and Diller had 2 for 21 yards and a score.
The wide receiver corps will include three senior veterans — Kevin Lee (5-9, 150, 11 catches, 319 yards, 2 TDs), Tucker Perry (5-10, 190, 4-59, 1 TD) and Tyeshawn Worrell (6-2, 165, 1 catch).
Also at wideout will be juniors Sam Vessah (6-1, 185, 4-55, 1 TD), Malaki Blair (6-0, 155) and Carter Sollenberger (6-1, 170).
Luther said, “Lee has good hands, Worrell has tremendous speed and Perry is a physical blocker.”
While the offense scored 28.6 points per game last year, Chambersburg’s defense gave up 23.5, and in order for the team to have a special season, that number must go down. Teams averaged 314 yards against the Trojans, while Chambersburg had 328 per game.
The three-man front line will have Hull, Fuller, Eiker and Harmon playing at nose guard. The ends will be manned by Hodges and Funk, as well as Pompeii and Shaffer.
Diller inherits the middle linebacker position, with Williams and Morton playing outside. Corwell, juniors Wesley Luke (5-8, 175) and Xavier Trawick (5-10, 190) and sophomore Grant Hopple (6-0, 190) will also see time.
The free safety is Worrell, with Lee at one cornerback spot and either Keyshawn Jones, Jayden Jones or Tyler Luther at the other. The strong safety is Perry, along with Sollenberger and Vessah, and Blair will back up Worrell.
Luther said, “With our scheme, a lot of the guys up front are interchangeable, depending on the opponent’s personnel. We feel good enough about our underclassmen that we want to get them in there playing. It’s a luxury that we can give guys a rest and feel good about who is out there.”
Tyler Luther is back to handle the kicking and punting duties — he hit 30 of 35 extra points and 4 of 6 field goals, with a long of 39, and his punting average was 32.0. But if he is used a lot on the field, his junior brother Tanner Luther (5-8, 155) has the leg to spell him.
Mark Luther said, “I think special teams is one area we can improve on. It’s hard to practice that in the summer, but we think our special teams can be a weapon this year.”
Chambersburg appears to have the perfect mix for a big year — experience, skill, athletic ability, depth. So what will it take to bring all those positives together?
Luther said, “With high expectations, you have more accountability to do your job. If the 11 guys on the field just do their job every play, then everybody else will benefit.”
If that happens, 2019 could be a truly fun season for the Trojans.
NOTES: Morton (2), Lee, Keyshawn Jones and Diller each had interceptions last year … Perry recovered four fumbles … Williams was starting at tight end and linebacker, but had his season ended with an injury in the third game … Chambersburg had a plus-7 turnover ratio last year … Jones rushed for 245 yards vs. Altoona and 299 vs. CD East … He has 2,260 career yards.
Home games this year include Greencastle (Friday), Altoona (Sept. 13), State College (Sept. 20), CD East (Oct. 4) and Carlisle (Oct. 25) … Away games are South Western (Aug. 30), Red Lion (Sept. 6), Cumberland Valley (Sept. 27), Harrisburg (Oct. 12) and Central Dauphin (Oct. 18) … All are Friday at 7 p.m., except Harrisburg, which is Saturday at 1.