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Positive signs at Ephrata for Year Three under Shelley?
After going 2-18 the past two years, it’s easy to say that there is nowhere to go but up in Ephrata.
But after listening to the Mountaineer contingent on hand at the annual L-L Media Day Tuesday morning, it appears that is exactly the direction this group is headed.
For one, Ephrata makes the transition this year from Section Two to Section Three, which competition-wise, better suits the Mounts. Secondly, Ephrata enters this season with the newly-formed Gridiron Club solidly behind it, which can only help in aiding all aspects of the program.
And adding to the excitement of the season is the new turf field at War Memorial, which will be in place for their September 5 clash at home vs. Cocalico.
The biggest change though is Ephrata feels it will be competing on a more even playing field by moving down to Section Three.
“We are going to be playing teams with numbers that are comparable to ours,” third-year Coach Scott Shelley said. “This was not a decision based on weaker competition. That was not the idea at all. It was based on numbers. When you end the season with 25 kids, and probably 10 of them hadn’t played football since the midget level, going up against great programs like Manheim Central and Cocalico, it gets very tough. That was the whole idea behind the decision. We as a staff had a long discussion about it and we decided the parents, the community, want to come to a game hoping that we can be competitive. It doesn’t matter if it’s Northern Lebanon or Cocalico. They just want to see us be more competitive and have the opportunity to win. And that’s what we want for these players.”
And the players seemed to be in favor of the move as well.
“We just need to play as a team and get back to playing football not just as a team but as a family,” junior R.J. Barrett said. “We need to get that bond back, and I feel that since we dropped to Section Three we may be able to get a couple wins. We are going to get our confidence back and more kids are going to realize that we can play and compete with some schools.”
Junior lineman Cordell Moyer agreed.
“Definitely the level of competition is better for us,” he said. “Hopefully the line works as one unit this year and not as a group of individuals. We had that problem last year. My goal is to not have that happen this year, to work as one and block better for the running backs and quarterbacks, just so we do better and hopefully win some games.”
All agreed the last two seasons have been tough with injuries and numbers, not to mention the losses that piled up. This year, a roster of about 50 or so kids with big sophomore and junior classes, give Shelley some hope that his team’s best football is ahead of them.
“Last year was like a bump in the road, but I’ve said all along, if we have options and are able to do things to bring a positive approach to the program, we are moving forward,” he said. “Just like starting Mini Mounts Flag Football for the young kids, and starting the Gridiron Club and having the outstanding support that we are getting from them, and they are going to be providing for the program throughout the community…these are things I’ve envisioned all along, and little by little we are putting them all in place so we are actually building from the top down, and bottom up. And our numbers on the lower levels are great. We had 100 players sign up for junior high football. I’m not naive enough to think we are going to get all 100 players, but we got 100 signed up. We have close to 100 playing midget football…there are a lot of positives going on right now. Now we got a lot of 11th graders and 10th graders who are going to be the core of our team, and that gives us two years with them. It’s exciting.”
Adding to that is playing on the new turf.
“It’s going to be pure excitement,” Moyer said.
Shelley added, “I think the kids that know about it and are coming out are excited about it,” he said. (But) I don’t think it will hit them until they walk down through the gates onto the field that Friday night against Cocalico. I think that is probably going to be one of the most exciting moments for them that they will ever remember, which I think is great.”
And while turf will add a new exciting aspect to the program, the players know to turn things around they’ll need to put in plenty of work.
“We got to put our nose to the grindstone and put our work in,” Moyer said. “ We’ve had a very bad record the last few years…it’s up to us to do it and change it around.”
Barrett said the move to Section Three will help.
“I’m just looking forward to putting the pads on again and just realizing that we have (more equal) competition this year,” he said. “We have a better chance to prove ourselves, not just to the people around the program but to the community and our school. I feel as players we have an opportunity to win some games…it’s going to be exciting.”
Ephrata opens its season with three non-league games, including that Week Two clash at home vs. Cocalico. The Mounts start out on the road August 29 when they battle former Section Two foe Conestoga Valley. Then following the Cocalico game in Week Two, they’ll travel to Lititz to face Warwick on September 12.
The Mounts will then host Northern Lebanon in the Section Three opener Friday, September 19.