Eagles eye return to the post season

By on August 17, 2016
 Cocalico seniors (left to right) Brady Maxwell, Brady Sawyer and Mason Strunk pose with head coach Dave Gingrich at the L-L Football Media Day Friday. (Photo by Preston Whitcraft)

Cocalico seniors (left to right) Brady Maxwell, Brady Sawyer and Mason Strunk pose with head coach Dave Gingrich at the L-L Football Media Day Friday. (Photo by Preston Whitcraft)

The 2015 season was one of missed opportunities for the Cocalico Eagles football team.
Two years after making the District semifinals and one season removed from a finals appearance at Districts, Cocalico struggled to a 5-5 mark and missed the post-season playoffs for the first time since 2011.
The odd thing about last season was, with the exception of a Week Nine 35-14 loss to eventual Section two champion Solanco, Cocalico certainly was in every game and probably should have won a couple of the ones that ended in losses.
The Eagles lost to Manheim Central by six, had Cedar Cliff on the ropes, dropped a 7-0 shutout to Daniel Boone and lost a tough 21-14 decision at the hands of Lampeter-Strasburg.
Had they pulled out just one of them, odds are they would have made the playoffs once again.
“I think we make and create our own fate, and what happened to us last year, we just weren’t mentally or physically tough enough to win those games that were close, in my opinion,” Cocalico Coach Dave Gingrich said, offering no excuses last Friday at the L-L Football Media Day.
Missing the playoffs not only stuck in the crawl of the coaching staff, it left a bad taste in the mouths of the players as well.
“For me personally, it was weird,” four-year starting senior lineman Brady Maxwell said Friday. “I played my freshman year and my sophomore year. Freshman year we made it to District semifinals, sophomore year we made it to District finals, and then last year ending 5-5 and not making the playoffs…that was just a weird feeling, and that kind of stuck with me throughout the off-season. It just wasn’t a feeling I want to get again. I want to get back to the playoffs. I want to play into November. I want to play again on Black Friday. It’s just an awesome feeling to (play in the post-season), and not even getting a chance last year hurt. It just wasn’t a feeling I want to have again.”
If nothing else, it certainly gave this year’s group tons of motivation heading into the off-season.
“Being 5-5 last year definitely gave us motivation,” senior Brady Sawyer, who is expected to be the quarterback this year, said. “The entire off season we were working really hard to get better, improve ourselves to make sure we are better this year. (Not making the post-season) definitely motivated us. Last year we were 5-5 and didn’t make playoffs but for this year it definitely adds fire, helps us push harder to get back to where we need to be.”
Mason Strunk, a senior center, agreed.
“The bitter taste in your mouth of going 5-5 is going to make you work harder in the weight room, speed training and all of that,” he said.
And according to Gingrich, they did just that.
“I don’t think since I’ve been here there’s been an off season where we’ve demanded more, expected more from the kids, and that they’ve come through,” he said. “I’m sure everyone here can says this but I know for us, we had a good heart-to-heart after the season. We showed some demonstrations, we brought some visuals out….we kind of made it a point and said we kind of got pushed around a little bit…nobody likes being pushed around. And our kids responded to that. Our coaches responded to that. We had a strength coach in there non-stop for the first month, morning and afternoon, making sure the kids were well-equipped with everything that they needed. I think from a physical standpoint, we’ve done pretty well. Now, athletically, mentally…I don’t know what’s going to happen there but I couldn’t ask for any more than what we’ve gotten.”
Whether or not that off-season work helps get Cocalico back to the post-season remains to be seen. The Eagles return a small senior class of just nine to compete in a revamped Section Two that saw CV and Lebanon leave and Cedar Crest and Ephrata step in their place.
In addition, with the PIAA adopting a six-classification system, Cocalico is now in the new 5-A class which will admit just eight teams (instead of the previous 16 under the old system) to the playoff field.
But despite it’s lack of numbers, Gingrich is high on this group of seniors.
“No matter what you have, you got to make the most of it,” he said. “Some years you have kids that do that. I think the kids we have now…we have nine seniors, that’s it, but they are good leaders and good people, and their expectations of what they want have transformed to our underclassmen. What these seniors lack in numbers I think they make up in work ethic and they are just good kids who will be good leaders as well.”
Cocalico kicks off the non-league season on Sept. 2 at home against Mid-Penn opponent Red Land, then meets Governor Mifflin and Upper Perkiomen (both on the road) the next two weeks.
The Eagles will then open Section Two play at home vs. Elizabethtown on Sept. 23.
“(Last year) we were so close,” Maxwell said. “We were in so many close games and we just couldn’t finish them. That was really frustrating for me and the rest of the team. This year, I’m kind of keeping that in the back of my head. I don’t want it to come down to a touchdown or have it so close toward the ends of games. I want to be that dominant team, and I’m definitely kind of expressing that to the rest of the guys. We need to be that dominant team and not be the ones that got pushed around last year and ended up 5-5.”

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