By William Bowman
The Daily Item
Mention the word “seniors” to Jim Keiser and watch him beam. As long as he coaches football at Danville, the Ironmen head coach admits he will be hard-pressed to find a senior class that means as much to him as this year’s group of Ironmen.
If you ever needed proof that quality matters much more than quantity on a football field, look no further than the Danville Ironmen.
Danville heads into Saturday’s PIAA Class AA quarterfinal against unbeaten Wyomissing with just five seniors on its roster, and only three of them — Bret Berg, Mason Fausnaught and Cale Rice — are regular starters. The other two (Ryan Gold, Matt McConnell) both play on special teams. Wyomissing enters Saturday’s game with 21 seniors on its roster and 10 of its 11 starters on offense are seniors.
Still, Keiser wouldn’t trade his bunch.
Berg, Fausnaught and Rice all came up to varsity during Keiser’s first season in 2009 and were part of the 2010 team that won 12 games, the best win total in school history. This year’s edition can tie that mark with a victory Saturday.
“It means a lot to me that it is this group of guys who have done this,” said Keiser. “You can’t ask any more out of a group of guys. I know there are only five of them, but they are so important to our program.”
They have all grown as Keiser’s program has grown over the last four years.
Berg was a starting safety on that 2010 team, and playing with the likes of Dylan Dailey and Russell Heath he was along for the ride. This year he has been one of the top performers on both sides of the ball. Last week against Mount Carmel he caught two touchdown passes and intercepted two more to up his season total to six.
“Two years ago Bret was shy, but he has turned into a very physical football player at safety for us,” said Keiser. “Last week he lit a kid from Mount Carmel up, made a real physical play, and I think it set the tone for us. It was like, ‘We’re here to play and we’re not backing down.’ He’s as physical a safety as I’ve ever seen.”
Rice leads a secondary that has intercepted 26 passes this year. He has 10 on the season and has taken a bigger role in the backfield in recent weeks due to halfback Isaiah Croll’s foot injury.
“Cale just continues to make plays for us like he has all year,” said Keiser. “And for a smaller guy, he will come up and smack you.”
Then there is Fausnaught, the 6-foot-1, 273-pound tackle who Keiser said has turned into the unquestioned leader on offense despite his role as a starting lineman.
“Mason is the best captain we’ve ever had,” said Keiser. “He’s really the guy that keeps us together out there. He’s also really turned into a vocal leader and the guys rally around him.”
Keiser said Fausnaught has taken it upon himself to make sure the offense is set, typically the job for the center or the quarterback.
“He’s like having another coach on the field, no doubt about that,” Keiser said. “He knows what everyone is supposed to be doing, from the fullback to the tackles to the wide receivers. He makes our line calls, makes sure we are in the right protection.”
The five seniors learned from being part of that 2010 team that went 12-1 before losing to Lewisburg in the District 4 title game. The knowledge they learned from that group, Keiser said, they are passing on to the group coming up behind them.
“We are, no doubt, a junior-dominated team, but every person on our team looks up to those seniors,” said Keiser. “It’s a great group to have and they deserve everything they have gotten so far.”