The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

October 31, 2013

Harold Raker's high school football column: Everyone knows his name


Daily Item

---- — School board meetings are not usually something we sportswriters pay much attention to, except when a new coach is about to be hired.

So one night in the spring of 2009, we were awaiting the word from a reporter on the hiring of Danville's new head football coach.

It was just a formality, or so we thought.

The name we had expected was well-known to all of us for having coached, successfully, at another school in the Valley.

Then came the name that had us all scratching our heads, as well as demonstrating how little we were tuned in to the workings of the Danville board.

Jim Keiser.

Who??????

Well, we did know him from having coached the Lewisburg High baseball team for a couple of seasons in the mid-1990s. And those close to Danville football knew he had coached in the T-Railers youth program, and had also been on the staffs that coached both eighth- and ninth-grade football.

It didn't take long for everyone in the Valley to know the name.

All Keiser's teams did was run rough-shod over the Heartland Athletic Conference Division I. He enters tonight's game at Selinsgrove with a record of 46-12, including three teams that ran the table in the HAC-I with the current one if the Ironmen beat Selinsgrove tonight.

Maybe few people knew about Jim Keiser, but Keiser knew talent. He saw plenty of it while coaching in the younger programs.

He has long been familiar with the likes of Weston Baylor, Sam Dressler, Isaiah Croll and many others. The last player he coached on the T-Railers, Cale Rice, graduated last year.

"We saw Dressler, Isaiah, we brought Sammy and Weston up as freshmen, and Eric Haney. We saw the potential they had, and in high school they just made a huge impact," Keiser said this week.

And, like most coaches who are proven winners, he will deflect the credit.

"We've been very lucky that we have had good kids who really bought into what we wanted to do here, and worked really hard to keep this going," Keiser said.

This year's team has been hit hard by injuries, the latest happening in last week's win over Bloomsburg. Gone for the season are the quarterback, the aforementioned Baylor, and likely linebacker Gabe Shope, and possibly cornerback Garrett Krum.

But don't count out this resilient bunch, who would like nothing more than another shot at the only team to defeat the Ironmen this year, the Montoursville Warriors. If that is to happen, it will likely be in the District 4 Class AA championship game.

As for keeping this thing going, Keiser believes the potential is there to entertain the loyal Ironmen fans for years to come.

"We are hoping we have got enough of a group (of talented kids) coming," he said. "We have some freshmen we think are good kids and we just have to get them on the same page as we have now."

Before Keiser, Ironmen fans had become used to teams that would got 4-6 or worse, but no better.

"When we took over, we decided we wanted to run the football. You've got to run the football to be successful in high school football and the kids wanted to do that, and it's been successful us," he said.

The one other element Keiser and his staff added to make that run game effective was play-action. There was just enough balance, with quarterbacks such as Andrew Andreychik, now a starting pitcher for Bucknell University baseball, to keep defenses from keying on anyone.

Before Andreychik, Andrew Shoop put up huge numbers in the passing game, passing for more yards than anyone in the state his senior year.

Had the Ironmen been able to run the ball as they do now, play-action would have made the Ironmen a scary team -- and cost area defensive coordinators a lot of sleep.

As for the defense, Keiser knew a good one when he saw it. After struggling against Selinsgrove and its 3-5 defense, Keiser decided he would rather switch than fight.

"We kind of modeled our defense after (the Seals) when I took over. It's probably been the best defense in this district for years. And we have a great group, which helps us more than anything," he said.

That group is led by its standout linebackers, particularly all-stater Haney, now a senior, who has led the team in tackles the last three years and, despite missing time, has 92 total tackles already this season.

SCHEDULE CHANGES: Keiser is sad that, after tonight, the Ironmen will no longer play their friendliest rivals, the Seals, at least for two years. Danville is moving down to HAC-II. But the good news is that Danville will resume its series with Southern Columbia, which will move back up to HAC-II.

Both Keiser and Southern coach Jim Roth wanted to keep one another on the schedule when the conference realigned two years ago, but were unable to do it.

In a perfect world, both of those rivalries would remain.

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY: A reader shared with us this week that tonight will be the 50th anniversary of a big win for a local team in the Twin Valley Conference (now the Tri-Valley League).

It was Friday, Nov. 1, 1963, that the Trevorton Red Devils (now part of Line Mountain) defeated Williamstown (now part of Williams Valley) 47-0 to win the TVL championship with a 7-1 record.

Thanks to reader Fred Klock for that piece of local history.

n Sports editor Harold Raker covers high school football for The Daily Item. Email comments to hraker@dailyitem.com.