Sitting side-by-side, a trio of Bellefonte players focused on what they learned from their winless 2013 season rather than get caught up in the lackluster record.
As they did while the losses piled up last fall, the Red Raiders chose to stay positive as they reflected during the Mountain League’s media day in the first week of August. Bellefonte senior Danny Caprio said the experience brought them closer together, and they expect to be a stronger team when they take the field this season.
“As frustrating as it was, we never felt like we were 0-10,” Red Raiders junior Nick Jabco said. “We always kept the intensity high and we always tried to play through it. We always felt like we were doing our part, but it’s definitely like Danny said, a way to boost this season to start this season strong.
“Chip on our shoulder,” said Caprio, a wide receiver and linebacker.
Bellefonte goes into the season motivated to leave memories of its 2013 season behind. Second-year coach Shanon Manning and his players have seen a different level of dedication to the program this offseason, and they’re hoping it leads to a turnaround. Manning said it may be a cliché, but his team can’t afford to look beyond getting better each day.
Still, his players have high expectations to turn the program into a winner again.
“I think anything short of .500 — .500 or below — I feel like we’ve worked too hard to accept anything less than what we’ve worked for,” senior lineman Isaiah Hahn said. “I think we definitely should have a good chance of beating at least six teams on our schedule.”
The Red Raiders have experience in the backfield to lead the offense.
Jabco will be among the options at running back after getting 32 carries for 91 yards last season. Austin Jackson, who rushed for a team-high 279 yards on 56 carries, is back along with Jon Kerschner, who finished with 200 yards rushing on 44 carries.
The team lost second-leading rusher Doylan Deitrich to graduation.
Manning expects junior quarterback Mark Armstrong to play a crucial role in how the Red Raiders’ season goes.
Armstrong completed 29 percent of his passes and threw just one touchdown compared to 18 interceptions.
“I’ve seen a big change in Mark, his confidence and how he carries himself,” Manning said.
The defense is looking to improve after allowing 48.6 points per game — giving up more than 50 points in five games. The offense wasn’t much better, scoring 9.6 points per game.
The struggles on both sides of the ball produced a winless season.
But Manning saw the dedication that defined this offseason start to form week after week in 2013.
“We didn’t have one kid quit last year,” Manning said. “Not one kid quit through the season. And to be honest with you, the expectations never wavered based off wins and losses, and we all knew we were in a little bit of a spot. But we fought through that and we’ll have more kids on the roster than last year, and we’ll be substantially better than last year.”
His confidence formed during the summer.
At morning workouts held three days a week, 30 players regularly showed up to lift weights and prepare for this fall. Manning said those sessions, starting at 8 a.m. and lasting two and a half hours, developed leadership that was lacking a year ago. They’re also why Hahn said he and his teammates would be disappointed with anything less than a winning season.
And though Manning isn’t looking past each day, he knows this group is capable of ending the program’s losing streak.
The Red Raiders proved it at Grove City College’s team camp. The players went through two practices a day, competed in 7-on-7s and watched film. Manning and his players left with confidence as Bellefonte stuck with their opponents during drills.
“I think we found out we were a physical football program,” Manning said. “I think those kids walked away knowing they’re going to win football games.”
Bellefonte’s hoping the combination of preparation and experience from its 0-10 season translates to wins in 2014.
“We learned how to face adversity,” Caprio said. “We aren’t going to be scared if we get down by a touchdown or two this year, even three. We’re going to be: We can still do this, it’s alright. we can get back from this and we can still win the game.”