The Bisons rolled through the Mountain League last season, winning by at least two touchdowns in all but one of its seven league games. Clearfield whipped league foes by an average of 25.1 points, but gone are the players who did most of that damage.
All-everything quarterback Christian Lezzer, who ran for 1,957 yards and 33 touchdowns and passed for 646 and eight scores, is a freshman linebacker at Boston College. Running back Tyler Stratton, who accumulated 1,319 yards and 20 TDs, is now at Lycoming College.
“This is one of the younger teams,” coach Tim Janocko said. “When you lose some of the caliber of players that we have lost the last couple of years, it’s tough but we’ve been in that boat before. ... We have to work hard and these kids have to step up. These kids have waited their turn and they’re an integral part of this team, too. They’ve played and have been a little battle-tested.”
At quarterback, Janocko has a couple of options. Erik Sellers saw time last season and threw for 262 yards and six scores. Cody Spade, who quarterbacked the JV squad, is also in the mix. Spade is a big in stature with a big arm.
“At first I was a little bummed,” said Sellers of possibly moving to another spot in the backfield. “Clearly, everybody wants to be the starting quarterback. But you look at (Spade) and you understand why. I just want to be in the offense where I fit best. Running the ball will be well-suited for me. I want to get the rock as much as they will give it to me.”
The Bisons have two sophomores with varsity experience who can be game-breakers. Seth Caldwell rushed for 800 yards and seven touchdowns on 137 carries last season. Ryan Lezer Christian’s brother, caught 10 passes for 237 yards and three scores..
“They played a lot but they’re still going to be sophomores,” Janocko said. “I catch myself sometimes at practice. They’ve been there before, but they’re still young.”
“This year, we’re going to hear a lot of new names,” Sellers added. “We have a lot of guys who young, but we also have a lot of guys who are are experienced.”
The Scarlet Dragons have huge holes to fill, especially on offense.
Quarterback Austin Cunningham threw for 1,536 yards and 22 touchdowns and led the ground attack with 1,351 yards, while netting 13 scores.
Tailback Bradi Moore rushed for 1,142 yards and 21 touchdowns and led the receivers with 37 catches for 721 yards and nine scores. Throw in special teams and defense and Moore found the end zone 35 times.
Noah Benton, who did throw for five scores in limited action, steps in at quarterback. Mike Mock will be one of his favorite targets. Mock will also be a stalwart on defense in the backfield. Defensive end Nick Hoenstine and linebackers Jordan Quarello and Kaleb Weyant also are key players.
Huntingdon is looking to continue to improve after getting back to .500 last season.
“We’re in year three of installing a new system, new coaches and everything, so we’re a work in progress,” coach Mike Hudy said. “We went 1-9 in year one, 5-5 year two and hopefully we have a winning season this year. We missed a winning season by one extra point last year.”
To make that jump, the Bearcats will need some new faces to account for the production lost from a group that averaged more than 30 points per game. Devon Claar, Mitchell Lauer and Rhett Stetchock, who were Huntingdon’s top three rushers, all graduated. They combined to rush for 1,758 yards and 25 touchdowns.
“We have some good players to fill those shoes,” Hudy said.
Jon Wagner is the top returning rusher, running for 239 yards on 41 carries last year, and Jacob Oliver will also contribute at running back. The Bearcats also return quarterback Hudson Speck, who threw for 12 touchdowns and six interceptions as a sophomore. Lineman Zach Dail and tight end Logan Fisher are among Huntingdon’s other top returners.
“We were pleasantly surprised last year with how it progressed,” Hudy said. “So like I said, we’re going to make the next step.”
Tyrone goes into the season expecting to rely on a defense returning eight starters.
The Golden Eagles must replace their all-state running back, quarterback and center from a team that finished 9-3 in 2013.
“There’s three key positions,” first-year coach Jason Wilson said. “Quarterback and center are making all the calls and are leading the offense so it’s going to be hard to replace those guys, and I think it’s been good work and there’s going to be some competitiveness for some of those positions.”
After completing 54 percent of his passes and throwing 15 touchdowns and six interceptions, Erik Wagner is a freshman at Lycoming College. Wilson said senior Garrett Hunter, who attempted just nine passes in 2013, will likely take over at quarterback this season. Drew Hunter is also in the mix to lead the offense.
James Oliver rushed for 1,646 yards and 29 touchdowns to earn all-state honors as a senior before moving on to St. Francis University. Aleic Hunter is in line to replace him. Hunter rushed for 277 yards and on 32 carries, good for a team-high 8.7 average in addition to finishing second on the team with 17 catches in 2013. Wilson said Bryant Taylor and wide receiver Cameron Bakhsheshe have also worked out in the backfield.
“I think those backups could have probably played on a lot of teams last year,” Wilson said. “They were just behind an all-state running back, so now it’s their chance to step up. It will be interesting to see how they do and who wins that position. The potential’s there.”
Despite the experience returning, Wilson expects a challenge in his first year at the helm.
“We’re excited but the standards at Tyrone are pretty high and the road’s not easy,” Wilson said. “We still got a tough road even though you return a good group of guys.”