Bellefonte is intent on adding some fresh paint to the fieldhouse inside Rogers Stadium.
Near one of the end zones, where the Red Raiders practice every week, sits the white fieldhouse with two large numbers painted in red: “1989” and 1999” — the lasst two years in which the program won the District 6 championship. Head coach Shanon Manning mentions those numbers nearly every day, and they’re in constant view during most fall drills.
So Manning isn’t shy about his desire to add “2017” to that building, especially with about 20 seniors returning.
“The kids would like that opportunity,” the fifth-year head coach said. “We know we have a tough road ahead of us; we know that.”
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Senior offensive lineman Garret Kutches nodded after practice: “He brings that up as often as he can.”
Under Manning’s watch, the Red Raiders have shown improvement every season and have never taken a step back. They were 0-10 in 2013, 3-7 in both 2014 and 2015, and then 5-6 last season when they reached the District 6-9 semifinal. This season, the team is convinced they’ll be better once again.
With Dexter Gallishaw returning at running back, a bigger offensive line and a defense spearheaded by linebacker Stephen Kutches, there’s cause for excitement for fans who stick around the wooden bleachers. This team senses a difference and, players said, finishing over .500 is now just expected. They want more.
“We’re always talking about it,” senior lineman Jake Frey said. “Want to put our year up on the fieldhouse. That’s definitely the goal we try to work toward.”
Even the team’s oldest players were just in diapers the last time the Red Raiders hoisted the district trophy. And all were in grade school the last time Bellefonte boasted a winning record, at 7-4 back in 2010, when it reached the district title game but fell to Johnstown 49-8.
During a recent practice, however, the enthusiasm on the field was palpable. Manning’s voice carried into the parking lot, and he constantly offered tips and guided his players from drill to drill. Upperclassmen zipped around; underclassmen followed their lead — and, after practice, many teammates took off together for the Grange Fair. “This isn’t just a program anymore,” Manning said. “It’s a team.”
Manning has been at the helm of plenty of others firsts for the Red Raiders. Last season, his squad upset Tyrone for the first time since 1993. It also reached the postseason for the first time in seven years. So it’s no surprise the lively coach has his players believing 2017 can set a few other precedents.
“This year, we want to take a big step,” senior receiver/defensive back Cade Fortney said. “We’re looking for a district championship this year.”
Sure, the Red Raiders will have to overcome the departure of quarterback Tyler Kreger. And, yes, the schedule is loaded with some tough challenges. But this team never stayed down for long last season, even in the losses.
Against Jersey Shore last season — which it plays again at 7 p.m. Friday — the Raiders trailed 27-0 at halftime before falling in a 33-28 heartbreaker. Against Central Mountain, Bellefonte rallied from a double-digit deficit and fell just a field goal short of the comeback. And, versus Tyrone, it outscored the opposition 14-7 in the second half to earn the 14-13 victory.
“We just have to get off that hump and be ready for the start,” linebacker/fullback Stephen Kutches said. “We’re good at finishing the game.”
Manning has spent the offseason telling his team that they’re capable of more success in 2017. And his veteran-laden squad hasn’t needed much convincing. With the fieldhouse — and those two numbers, “1989” and “1999” — just yards from the high school and constantly within sight during practice, the team has literally been reminded of its ultimate goal every day.
“A district championship is what we’re after,” senior quarterback Nick Paloskey reiterated. “We have high expectations. Everyone we play is going to be tough, but we have the ability to win every game.”
Head coach: Shanon Manning (fifth season)
Last season: 5-6
Assistant coaches: Shawn Hale, Terry Bumgardner, Bob Sealy, Evan Reese, Tony Confer, Ryan Knight
Key losses: Tyler Kreger, Gaven Danneker, Eli Lipscomb, Tanner Helms, Jaiden Boone
Returning letterwinners: QB/DB — Nick Catalano (soph.), Nick Paloskey (sr.); RB/LB — CJ Funk (soph.), Steve Kutches (sr.), Dexter Gallishaw (sr.), Colton Burd (jr.); SE/DB — Dylan Deitrich (sr.), Cade Fortney (sr.), Ryan Smith (jr.); SE/LB/K — Chris Persiko (jr.); TE/OLB — Zack Sproul (sr.); OL/DL — Luke Lambert (sr.), Dylan Houser (sr.), Andrew Davidson (sr.), Zach Matsko (sr.), Jake Frey (sr.); OL/LB — Garret Kutches (sr.).
Key newcomers: WR/DB — Jaymz McClelland; TE/DL — Caleb Rockey (jr.); OL/DL — CJ Lauck (jr.)