GREENCASTLE — The excitement in the air for the start of the football season feels a little different in Greencastle this year, and it’s a feeling of confidence.
The Blue Devils have struggled recently to put together a good record, but with a boatload of returning players, G-A hopes to turn that around when it hosts Chambersburg on Friday at 7:00 p.m. at newly-renovated Kaley Field.
“We’ve been building for this year,” Greencastle coach Devin McCauley said. “These classes have been successful at the lower levels and they want to be successful at the varsity level. We feel very good about where we are right now, and we are definitely ready to play.”
The Blue Devils return seven starters on offense and four on defense, plus an excellent kicker in Nate Kirkwood. Even better, only two players are slated to start on offense and defense, which shows a level of depth G-A has not had for a while.
McCauley said, “We had a good offseason in the weight room and these kids have prepared well. I like our depth on the lines — we haven’t had that recently — we feel we’re pretty athletic, and special teams should be a big positive.”
The returners on defense include nose guard Elijah Britner (jr., 6-3, 315, 37 tackles, 2 tackles for a loss last year), outside linebacker Brady Diller (sr., 6-0, 180, 2 tackles for a loss), strong safety Lorcan Wright (sr., 5-9, 162) and free safety Ethan Shank (sr., 6-0, 165). A year ago, Wright led the team with 76 tackles and an interception and Shank made 72 stops.
Javier Luna (sr., 6-0, 220) and Bryce Kaiser (sr., 6-1, 220) will man the tackle positions on the line. Darren Kline (jr., 5-10, 190) is an outside ‘backer and Aiden Horan (jr., 5-10, 210) and Jake Yelton (jr., 6-1, 203) play inside. Austin Wyand (jr., 5-9, 160) and Seth Stouffer (jr., 6-0, 175) will play cornerback.
“We have some new names on defense, but we return both safeties and they’re the ones making the calls,” McCauley said. “We want to be sound and cause turnovers.”
In a scrimmage against New Oxford, the Blue Devils caused five turnovers.
Greencastle has two strengths on offense — running back and line. Which means you can expect G-A to emphasize running the ball, and then try to catch opponents ganging up on the run.
McCauley said, “We feel we’re solid up front, so we can be physical and control the football. And that sets up some play action.”
The running back duo of senior David Niebauer (5-10, 174) and junior Tavon Cooper (5-11, 165) will have some fun if the line performs as expected. Niebauer, a three-year starter, gained 453 yards on 86 carries (5.27 avg.) and scored twice, while Cooper ran for 84 yards on 14 carries and had a touchdown. Cooper also had 12 catches for 112 yards and Niebauer snagged 10 balls for 67 yards.
Leading the way for the backs are the linemen — John Redos (sr., 6-1, 190) at left tackle, Jake Kumfert (sr., 6-5, 315) at left guard, Gage Smith (sr., 5-11, 225) at center, Britner at right guard and Parker Funk (so., 6-0, 218) at right tackle, while Kline starts at tight end.
Kumfert and Smith are starting for the third year, and Redos and Britner started last year. Britner and Kumfert give G-A a pair of 315-pound guards to clear out some space.
Senior Taylor Conrad (6-0, 184) is making a move from middle linebacker to quarterback. In limited time last year, Conrad was 3-for-3 for 51 yards passing.
“Last year, we needed him there on defense,” McCauley said, “so he’s been waiting for his chance at quarterback. He’s a dual threat and we have a package we can use for him.”
The receiving corps will include Shank, Jackson Eby (jr., 5-11, 155) and Stouffer.
That leaves the kicking game, which will handled by Kirkwood. Last year, he was 8-for-8 on extra points and 1-for-3 on field goals. Wyand and Cooper took care of most of the return duties last year.
“Nate was invited to a really good kicking camp this summer and was ranked No. 68 nationally,” McCauley. “He probably has a range of over 50 yards. I’d say he’s one of our best college prospects. We’ve put a lot of focus on special teams and we feel it can be a big factor for us.”
In addition to playing rival Chambersburg in the first week, the Blue Devils travel to Hersheypark Stadium to tangle with Lower Dauphin on Thursday, Sept. 2 and then play at Delone Catholic the following week. Then comes the tough Mid Penn Colonial Division schedule.
Greencastle, which posted a 2-5 record last year, has only four home games this year.”
McCauley said, “Our schedule is tough, because everybody in the division is tough. There are no teams you can look at and say they’re going to finish on the bottom.
“We’re just excited to get going and we’re excited to have the fans back.”