Maybe the coaches should have been wearing numbers like the players at the annual Mountain League football Media Day.
Numbers would make the identification process easier.
Three of the eight teams, including Bald Eagle Area and Philipsburg-Osceola, have new faces in charge this season. And Bellefonte’s Shanon Manning, in his second season, was making his first appearance because he had back surgery last year and was forced to miss the event.
Of the three newcomers, Philipsburg-Osceola’s Mike Soyster and Tyrone’s Jason Wilson are head coaches for the first time. Ron Hoover led Bald Eagle Area for six seasons and is back in charge for the first time since after a six-year stint ended in 2001.
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In total, six of the of the head coaches have four years or less at their current schools.
“I think that you see that at all levels at different times,” said Penns Valley’s Martin Tobias, who will begin his 19th season with the Rams. “... It happens, but there are a lot of new faces.”
“Things change,” agreed Clearfield’s Tim Janocko, the elder statesman of the Mountain League in his 30th year with the Bisons. “The bottom line is we still have to go out and compete and we have to control our team and the things that we do.
“These younger guys that are coming in are good coaches. They work hard. I wouldn’t say they give you more to look at it because I’ve seen a quite bit. But, they are innovative. They have energy so you have to work hard.”
Even the players have taken notice of the coaching carousel.
“It’s a lot of changes, but there’s a lot of good coaches around here,” BEA quarterback Jason Jones said.
The new faces promise to make things happen.
Soyster played at State College Area High School, but he has an appreciation for the Mounties’ football history.
“I’m from the P-O area,” Soyster said. “My dad’s a graduate and my mother’s a graduate. My grandfather played at Philipsburg back when they were wearing leather helmets.There’s a rich, rich tradition, and what I want to accomplish is first, these guys believe in themselves and how tough they are and then also to play harder than anybody else.”
Soyster was hired in January to take over a Philipsburg-Osceola program coming off a 1-9 season under former coach Jeff Vroman. Vroman is now Bellefonte’s offensive coordinator.
Soyster went on to play at the University of Pennsylvania, lettering from 1995-1997. He then worked on the Quakers coaching staff under longtime head coach Al Bagnoli.
Soyster sees potential on Philpsburg-Osceola’s roster, but the coach’s challenge is building confidence in his players.
“I think we’re extremely fast and I know P-O kids are extremely tough,” Soyster said. “So you put those two things together — speed and toughness — I’d put us up against anybody. Anybody.
“Our weakness, though, is their belief that they are that fast and are that tough, but that’s coming along. I honestly think we have all the pieces to be put together to be very, very competitive.”
The belief has slowly developed throughout an offseason of progress as Soyster continues to prepare for his first season.
“About four, five months ago, we had 13 returning players and we had three footballs and two were flat,” Soyster said. “So now yesterday, we had 23 guys come out and we have 20 new footballs, so things are looking better.”
While he’s a new face this season, Hoover has been around BEA football for a long time.
He coached Jones’ father, David, also a quarterback, at BEA.
“He told me he played for coach Hoover,” Jason Jones said. “He liked him. He’s a great coach.”
“It’s pretty neat to see some generations coming through,” said Hoover. “It’s been a full ride here. It started in 1983. I had that stint as the head coach back in the 90s and back in it again. I never really left the program. It’s just been in different levels and different roles.”
Hoover, who takes over for Jack Tobias, inherits a club that has been to the Distirct 6 playoffs in back-to-back seasons. While he has lost some playmakers to graduation, Hoover expects BEA to contend again for the postseason.
“It’s going to be a nice challenge,” said Hoover, who was 21-39 in his first stint at BEA “Being a first-year coach doesn’t mean that the program is going to be down. A lot of times that brings new energy, too. You’ve got to respect and be ready to play every week.”
This season will be Wilson’s first head coaching opportunity after falling into a volunteer position a decade ago.
When he graduated from Tyrone and went to college in 2004, he never expected to get into coaching.
But after he went to the Golden Eagles’ first home game that fall against Bellwood-Antis, a coversation with then-Tyrone coach John Franco led to an offer to join his staff as a volunteer.
“I’d help out for the game and start out down at the bottom charting plays, helping defenses, making sure adjustments were happening correctly and seeing what offenses were trying to do against them,” Wilson said.
Wilson’s been on the staff ever since, and now he’s getting ready to lead the Golden Eagles. He worked his up from volunteer to assistant coach to defensive coordinator before being hired to replace Steve Guthoff. Guthoff led Tyrone to a 17-7 record in two seasons.
Before Guthoff, Franco was the head coach at Tyrone for 18 years, leading the Golden Eagles to eight district championships and one state title.
“This class has now seen three coaches in four years,” Wilson said. “They’ve seen three offensive coordinators in four years. We return a decent amount of players, but it’s still a tough road ahead for us and I think they’ve been really responsive to us so far over the summer and we’ve had good turnout at workouts over the summer.”
Manning faced a tough road before his first season at Bellefonte even began last year.
“I was still hiring coaches the night before heat acclimation,” said Manning, who was hired in May. “A year ago at this time, there were kids defecting to other schools. I had coaches resign for teaching positions. It was a totally different ball of wax. This year we come into it, we’re settled. Our kids are committed. The coaches are set. The climate feels very different.”
Last year, Manning hired coaches he’d never worked with before. This year, after the Red Raiders went 0-10 in 2013, Manning has a revamped staff filled with familiar faces.
Robbie Irwin is the lone returning coach at the varsity level. Aaron Scott moves up to the varsity staff as an assistant after coaching at the junior high level. Terry Bumgardner and Barry Jones both worked with Manning at Penns Valley and now join him at Bellefonte. Bumgardner will be the team’s defensive coordinator.
Vroman, the former P-O coach, will serve as the offensive coordinator.
“It’s a full new staff for the Bellefonte players,” Manning said. “But it’s not a full new staff for me.”
While new faces inject energy, there’s something to be said for longevity, too.
Penns Valley players say they like that Tobias has been a constant in Spring Mills.
“It’s reassuring almost, knowing it’s going to be there,” Sean Beamesdefer said of the coaching staff. “You don’t have to worry about everybody flip-flopping every year or two.”
Why has Tobias lasted the test of time at what has become one of the smallest school’s in the Mountain League?
“I would hope it’s a testament to the job that we’re doing,” Tobias said. “We’re working with young men, hoping to mold and shape them into future fathers, husbands, leaders in business. We talk a lot about the skills that transfer from sports to real life.
“And you look at all of the things that go into sports that are also a part of life facing and dealing with adversity, successes, failure, improving yourself, improving and working we a group of others. These are all skill that we try emphasize and hopefully that’s a big part of the success with the longevity and young men and products we’re turning out.”
West Virginia bound
Coal isn’t the only thing that’s being mined in West Virginia.
Pennsylvania high school football teams, which have struggled to fill their schedules, are looking West to find competition.
Bellefonte will play at John Marshall on Sept. 19, a week after State College travels to Martinsburg. Clearfield, which played a team from Canada the last two seasons, travels to Keyser.
Manning said that after he was informed that the Red Raiders might have trouble fulling their schedule, he told athletic director Deb Moore that he would start looking.
“I said, ‘You know what, I’m going to find out what’s in West Virginia, Ohio and New York,’” Manning recalled. “… I just started making phone calls, phone calls and phone calls. John Marshall called back and said, ‘Hey, we played State College a few years ago and if you’re interested maybe we can make this happen.’ That’s how it went. They were great to work with.”
Janocko said Clearfield’s success has been a detriment in scheduling.
“It’s hard to find teams that want to play you if you’re successful,” he said. “It’s hard to find teams your own size that want to play you. I’m not speaking arrogantly. We had an open date and there weren’t exactly people busting the door down to play us.
“We looked around and this team is comparable to us. That’s what we have to do.”