For a few months last winter, Penns Valley was seeking a new coach for its football program.
After two decades at the helm of the Rams, celebrating spectacular performances, glorious victories and heart-wrenching defeats, Martin Tobias was out of the job.
But after all the applications and interviews, it turned out the new boss was the same as the old. With the new life, Tobias knew he had to do better.
“We’ve made some little tweaks,” Tobias said as his team prepares for its season opener at Marian Catholic at 7 p.m. Friday.
The changes were made to a number of areas including practices, schemes, the team organization and responsibilities for coaches and players. Tobias met with this season’s seniors throughout the spring after he was rehired, giving everyone input in how to improve a program that was 2-8 last fall and had just two winning seasons among the past 10.
“The players have responded very well to everything,” Tobias said. “They are a group that is experienced. We’ve got a strong senior class who, as juniors, got a lot of playing experience. They’ve really taken the challenge.”
Looking at the changes for this season, the Rams also have to account for what was lost from last year — specifically the athletically gifted Ben Alexander, who is now at Liberty University after accounting for about 2,800 all-purpose yards during the past two seasons.
It would be impossible for the small school to expect another student-athlete to match his abilities. Throw in a number of other losses to graduation, like leading rusher Chase Collison and his 699 yards, and the job is even harder.
“It’s been a process,” Tobias said. “We’re working through it. We’re giving lots of guys opportunities, lots of guys looks. We’re not going to be able to replace those guys, but we’ll find people who can fit within what we’re trying to do.”
Returning to the quarterbacking duties is Tobias’ son, Andrew (6-foot-4, 190 pounds, Sr.), who passed for 1,458 yards while completing 53 percent of his passes.
“He really came into his own last year as a starter,” Martin Tobias said. “He handled the role well. He’s poised, he knows the game, he understands the game, he loves to compete and he has the trust of his coaches and teammates.”
The coach is also feeling confident in his offensive line. He has eight juniors and seniors with loads of experience who average 6-foot and 232 pounds.
The group includes seniors Luke Snyder (6-5, 250), Trevor Fleck (6-2, 230), Tim Breon (5-11, 200), Cameron Clark (5-11, 200), Jared Bressler (6-3, 240) and Ryan Long (6-4, 305) along with juniors Thomas Kauffman (6-2, 260) and Matthew Tobias (6-4, 250).
“It’s a good problem to have,” Martin Tobias said. “We haven’t had that in a while. We have some really good linemen, and it gives us depth.”
The new faces will be running and catching the ball.
Running backs Takota Bubb (5-8, 170, Sr.) and Colton Wenrick (5-8, 165, Sr.) saw time last season, but other ball-carriers are “still up for debate,” Tobias said.
Split wide, Jared Hurd (6-0, 160, Sr.) is a returning starter, catching 30 passes for 414 yards last fall, but there are five others jockeying for time on the field as the team moves to a shotgun spread offensive attack. Tight ends include Christian Rudolph (6-4, 235, Sr.), Jacob Duffield (6-6, 255, Jr.).
On the defensive side, most of the offensive linemen are looking for time up front along with Rudolph and Duffield. Linebackers include Clark, Cole Hess (5-11, 195, Sr.), Garrett Fleck (6-0, 225, Sr.), Justin Sands (6-4, 200, Jr.), Matt Caldana (5-8, 220, Jr.) and Wenrick.
Hurd and Andrew Tobias lead the defensive backs with Bubb, Conlan Burd (6-2, 150, Sr.), Tristan Klinefelter (5-4, 145, Jr.), Nic Kubalak (6-2, 150, Jr.), Blain Ripka (6-2, 175, Jr.) and Marcus Woodford (6-0, 170, Sr.) all looking to earn time.
The kicking and punting duties are still up for grabs.
But now in his 21st season, with a reprieve on the sideline, Martin Tobias is doing all he can to get the Rams’ program turned around.
“Every practice, every game, every play, give us your best effort from start to finish,” he said. “All of those clichés, those are the things we’re really hanging our hat on. Those are the things they’re reminding each other of.”
Head coach: Martin Tobias (21st season)
Last season: 2-8, 2-5 Mountain League
Assistant coaches: Tom Shearer, Rob Irwin, Kurt Troxel, Troy Kauffman, Dave Yoder, Mike Durn, Matt Myers, Eric Weaver, Ryan Woodruff, Brian Heiser, Evan Heiser, Dave Wolfe
Key losses: Ben Alexander, Jacob Allanson, Allen Cain, Chase Collison, Dakota Luse, Jeremy Scholly, Ethan Stroup, Brandon Witmer, Corby Woodring
Returning letterwinners: Jared Bressler, Takoda Bubb, Cameron Clark, Jacob Duffield, Trevor Fleck, Cole Hess, Jared Hurd, Thomas Kauffman, Tristan Klinefelter, Ryan Long, Sean McGowan, Christian Rudolph, Justin Sands, Luke Snyder, Andrew Tobias, Matthew Tobias, Colton Wenrick.
Key newcomers: Matt Caldana, Nick Kubalak, Blain Ripka, Justin Sands, Marcus Woodford