Steve Jervis likes the direction his Lackawanna Trail football program is heading, with successive playoff appearances highlighting a pair of eight-win seasons for the Lions.
Change is in the air this season and Jervis understands what's at stake for both the Lions and the program. The momentum that has been built from those playoff games is something he wants to embrace but, with more than half of his starters gone from last year, he knows new heroes need to emerge to extend the playoff run another year.
"There will be some hefty challenges," Jervis said. "We graduated four linebackers on defense and we graduated Justin Barber, a good defensive lineman and offensive lineman going to play at Slippery Rock, our first scholarship kid since I've been at Trail. That being said, we had a great summer, the kids worked very hard in the weight room."
Football coaches believe the success they have in the fall is due to the work accomplished the previous winter, spring and summer. Jervis likes what the players have done to get to the start of practice earlier this month.
"We've worked hard in the weight room and we keep track of who lifts and who doesn't. We call that the Ironman Club," Jervis said. "We have 25 kids in the Ironman Club this year and nine kids in the Pound-For-Pound Club, more than we ever had. They stayed with the program in the offseason, now it comes down to how quickly we gel and develop our own personality as a football team this year."
Five starters are back on offense and four return to start on defense and it's that side of the ball that Jervis is eager to see in action this year. The fewer points it allows opposing teams to score will buy some time for the offense to find itself, with a new quarterback trying to acclimate himself into Jervis' offense.
"Defensively, the big thing is that we have four good kids to replace those linebackers, but any time you replace your four linebackers; that's the heart and soul of our defense," Jervis said. "It really comes down to how well we control the line of scrimmage on the defensive side of the ball and how well our four linebackers gel together."
Senior defensive end Thomas Fricke is the lone returning starter in the trenches, while junior free safety Cooper Rosiak is joined by senior Jonathon Zedar and junior Liam Dougherty in the secondary. Those four will need to exert their experience to get the best from the newer starters.
"We have a great nucleus of seniors who provide us leadership, and we have a very talented junior class," Jervis said. "It's going to come down to how well we mesh together as a team."
The offense will also be a work in progress with more than half of the starters being first-time starters. Zedar is back at running back and Dougherty returns at wide receiver, with senior Matt Harris at tight end. Up front, senior guard Jake Adcroft and junior tackle Evan Sandercock make up a strong right side of the line.
"We want to get off to a good start," Jervis said. "I think we have the potential to throw the ball a little better this year than we have in the past. One of our strengths is overall team speed; we have some good athletes at key positions."
Many of the mainstays from the last two seasons are gone, but Jervis hopes the memory of those players can inspire this year's team from afar with the legacy they have built, to continue the program's rise under Jervis.
"Overall, we want to keep the bar raised high, with back-to-back eight-win seasons," Jervis said. "Our goal is to be right in the mix at the end of the year, like we have been the last two seasons."
Road trips to Nanticoke and Hanover Area begin the season, meaning that six of the final eight games are at home, including a pair of three-game homestands. Coming to the Lions are Meyers, Western Wayne and Mid Valley in September and Susquehanna, Montrose and Holy Cross in the final three weeks of the regular season.