The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

December 7, 2012

Harold Raker's column on high school football: Future bright for Valley teams

Daily Item

---- — Instead of dreaming of a white Christmas, some Valley football coaches are already dreaming about the next season.

Any sports season as it heads toward the final weeks can become an absolute grind for the athletes and even the coaches. But in the case of at least three area schools -- Selinsgrove, Danville and Southern Columbia -- the coaches, and most likely the players, are as excited as kids at Christmas time for the 2013 season to get here.

There were tears shed last Friday night at Bethlehem Liberty High School's Frank Banko Stadium, especially by some of the seniors who were saying good-bye to their high school and maybe their overall football careers.

But, after an emotional talk with his players and hugs all around on the field after the loss to Allentown Central Catholic, Seals coach Dave Hess couldn't help talking about the future.

After enduring a 1-9 season in 2011, just two years after a 16-0 state championship run, the joy, and the optimism, have returned to Selinsgrove's program.

Asked about how many starters graduate from this year's 11-3 team, Hess went over what is a relatively short list, and a big smile came to his face.

"We will have one of the best nucleuses ever," Hess said as his players and coaches milled around, knowing that they had just been a part of a Seals football resurgence.

"I can't wait."

Selinsgrove will return six starters on each side of the ball, and they include this year's freshman sensation, tailback Juvon Batts, who ran for more than 1,000 yards even though he missed a few games early.

Both Hess and his Danville counterpart, Jim Keiser, had young squads this season and were not picked to contend, much less win any championships. But Danville beat the Seals in week 10 to take the Heartland Athletic Conference-Division I crown and both won their respective District 4 championships, the Seals in AAA and the Ironmen in AA. Selinsgrove won an opening-round state playoff game before falling to the Vikings.

Danville fell victim to a veteran and talented unbeaten Wyomissing team in the state quarterfinals.

Keiser told his players after last Saturday's loss to learn from the experience.

He, too, is anxious to see what next year brings. "We have eight starters back on each side of the ball and these kids got their fee wet at this level."

He said the players would have to work harder next summer to get better and give themselves a chance to back to this level. And possibly beyond.

Before the season even started, Southern Columbia coach Jim Roth was already talking about next year, while knowing his team could be pretty darn good in 2012. With a team of mostly first-year starters, the Tigers went undefeated in the regular season and District 4 Class A playoffs before falling to Dunmore in the first round of the state tournament.

Look out for the Tigers again next season as they return eight offensive and six defensive starters.

A SPECIAL TALENT: Although the Seals lost to ACC, anyone who made the trip from Snyder County and other parts of the Valley got to see one of the great all-time high school performances. Hess talked in the week going into the game about what a challenge his defense, which has been solid all season, would face against the Vikings' senior tailback, Colin McDermott. If the film of his games made him look good, he was being underestimated.

When you watch plays develop from a pressbox as high above the turf as the one at Banko, it is easy to see where a running back should go with the ball. McDermott saw it too, and seemed to never go in the wrong direction. Like the baseball axiom, "hit 'em where they ain't" the 6-foot, 200-pound McDermott, ran the ball where they weren't, defenders that is.

Watching him find open spaces reminded me of the Geico insurance commercial where they talk about an "antelope with night-vision goggles." There were runs where the defenders didn't get close enough to McDermott to catch a cold from him.

COME PLAY WITH US: It's that time of year again (especially since it is the final high school football column of the year). Yes, that's right. Dead-horse beating time (not literally).

The PIAA playoffs again have their share of non-public schools, which can legally recruit players from a number of districts.

This year, Class AAA is biggest culprit, with all four semifinalists being private schools. Allentown Central meets Archbishop Wood and Erie Cathedral Prep takes on Bishop McDevitt.

FINAL TALLY: With the season over for teams from the Valley, and a 3-3 record in picking playoff games last week, the final tally for the season stood at 227-66, for a percentage of .775.