High school reunion

By on August 31, 2016
Ephrata’s Shane Wright

Ephrata’s Shane Wright

When Kris Miller makes his debut as Ephrata Coach Friday night at Conestoga Valley (7 p.m.), he’ll see a familiar face roaming the other sideline.

Gerad Novak, who was Miller’s head coach at CV during his high school playing days, returned to the helm this season after stepping down in 2009. During Novak’s first stint, which lasted 15 seasons, the Buckskins went 65-78 overall.

He takes over a CV team that has gone just 8-22 the last three years under Mark Pieters.

The Bucks will be led by senior quarterback Grant Stoltzfus, who will be starting for his fourth year at the position. Stoltzfus has thrown for 4,991 yards in his career, and is poised to have another solid season leading the Buckskins’ spread attack.

Fellow senior Connor Britton returns at running back and should provide a nice run-pass mix for CV. Defensively, nine starters return for the Buckskins.

As for Miller, a first-year head coach after spending several seasons assisting at Northern Lebanon, he’ll face an even bigger challenge than his mentor during his first season at Ephrata.

The Mounts come into the year riding a 31-game skid with a roster that sits in the mid-30s. Despite those challenges, Miller is excited after going through a couple weeks of camp and looks forward to getting things going on the right track.

Senior Brendan Holbritter (700 yards & six touchdowns in 2015) takes over as full-time starter at quarterback, while three-year starter Kyle Sadorf anchors the offensive line at center.

Defensively, the Mounts will employ an attacking 3-3-5 scheme.

This past week, both Miller and Novak replied to the following questions from Review Sports Editor Todd Ruth about Friday’s pending match-up:

Todd Ruth: As you head into Week One, what are your expectations heading into the first game?

Kris Miller: I am looking forward to seeing our kids play with confidence and emotion. I expect to see us continue to take steps forward and build on our successes.

TR: Coach Novak, as you head into Week One, what are your thoughts on the way you guys have performed leading up to this first game?

Gerad Novak: The players have done a great job of learning a new offense and defense. It is never easy to re-learn everything that you’ve been taught over the past three years. Plus we started school on August 23 and the other schools in the L-L League had more two-a-day practices than we did this past summer. The ratio is like two-to-one so I’m pretty happy about our knowledge and performances in both scrimmages at this point in time. The key is to continue to improve weekly.

TR: Ephrata has lost 31-straight games but is coming in fresh with Kris now at the helm. What are your concerns about your opponent heading into Friday?

GN: Kris brings new energy and life to the Ephrata program. He is knowledgeable and he has been successful as a DC so he knows the game from both sides of the ball. Kris is in a position to rebuild a program that was once very successful in the L-L League in the 80s and 90s. He has a very good staff with a mixture of former Ephrata coaches who understand the traditions and winning football games and new young coaches with a great deal of excitement and enthusiasm. And because of that combination Ephrata becomes a very dangerous football team. It will not take Kris very long to change the culture of Ephrata football and turn that program around but hopefully that doesn’t start until after Friday night’s game.

TR: You have one of the best QBs in the league in Grant Stoltzfus. Do you see you guys leaning on him heavily in the passing game or are you hoping to unleash a more balanced attack against Ephrata?

GN: It really depends on what the defense gives us during the game and hopefully we can take advantage of their weaknesses. If they play coverage then we need to be able to run the ball with Connor Brinton and our offensive line must be able to run block. If we can be successful running the ball when teams take away the pass it will open things up in the passing game. We need to develop patients on the offensive side of the ball and take advantage of how teams adjust. Grant has been very successful at QB but his teammates have to take some of the pressure off of his shoulders. The offensive line plays a huge part in creating big plays in our rushing and passing offense. Grant is one cog in the wheel but he is going to need a support cast for us to be successful.

TR: Coach Miller, is their passing game the biggest concern for you going in?

KM: Any time you are up against a four-year starting quarterback it’s going to be a challenge. There is not much that he hasn’t seen over the previous three years. Watching film on him the first thing you notice is that he has a strong arm, great accuracy, and some athletic receivers. Now he is being coached by Coach Novak who has a long resume of developing quarterbacks, not only physically, but mentally.

TR: What other concerns do you have about the game?

KM: We need to show up and play our game and our style in all three phases of the game. We can’t let our highs get too high or our lows get too low. A lot can happen in the 48 minutes of a football game and you can’t let yourself go through a roller coaster of emotions. We have to focus on controlling our attitudes and effort for the entire game and let everything else take care of itself.

TR: Coach Novak, what are some of the keys you guys need to do to notch your first win of the season Friday night?

GN: Our offensive line has to establish the line of scrimmage. We have to be able to run the ball vs their 3-3 stack defense to open up the passing game. The 3-3 stack is traditional a blitzing team, bring people from everywhere on the field so we need to pick up those blitzes and get the running game established. Another key is to protect Grant in the passing game and try to take advantage of some of the one-on-one match-ups we get on the outside. Execution is the key early in the season and avoiding penalties which put you behind the chains. Especially in the first game, the team which makes the least number of mistakes comes out on top.

TR: And Coach Miller, what are the things you feel your guys need to do effectively to stay with the Buckskins?

KM: We need to execute on offense, defense, and special teams. We cannot let them dictate to us what we can and cannot do in any phase of the game. They are certainly a well-coached team and will be ready to play Friday night.

TR: On a personal level, what does this game mean to you, both as a CV grad and someone who is coaching his first game as a head coach?

KM: I have been dreaming about this day since the day I started as a football coach at Northern Lebanon. When I was going through the interview process this past winter I realized that Ephrata would be opening up the season at CV. When the game kicks off I will not be thinking about it being my first game as head coach. At that point it will be just like any other game. I have to trust our game planning and the hard work of my assistant coaches with their position coaches throughout the off-season and summer camp. I am sure that I will always remember this game for the rest of my life. I look forward to seeing many of my former teammates, coaches, teachers, and friends back in Witmer for the opening game.

I have a lot of respect for Coach Novak and I certainly would not be where I am today without his coaching and encouragement from the time I was in high school to now. I personally believe that he is one of the best coaches in the L-L League and he will certainly have his team prepared.

TR: Coach Novak, I’ll end with a similar question to you. What does this game mean to you, coming back and coaching against someone like Kris, who learned his craft from you?

GN: I’m really excited to be back at CV. I feel like I’m a part of the tradition and have played a part in the success of CV football over the previous 30 years. My goal is to “Restore the Tradition” of winning football games at CV. The school, community and alumni at CV have known winning over the past 30 years so we want to restore that winning tradition at CV.

I’m excited to see a former player establish himself in the coaching ranks. I know Kris and his staff are driven to rebuild the Ephrata football program. I just hope it doesn’t start until after we play Ephrata on Friday night. Kris is the right man for the job. As a player he wasn’t afraid of hard work, getting knocked down and getting back up and doing it again until he got it right. His great attributes as a player was his work ethic, knowledge and love of the game. Coaching in general is very time consuming and Kris knows the level of commitment it takes as an athlete and coach to do the job well.

There is no greater complement as a coach than to see a former player join the coaching ranks. As a coach you can only hope that you had a positive influence on your athletes and that influence will in some way make future coaches and athletes better. But not just better athletes but better people.

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