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What will the Blue Raiders football team do for an encore in 2017? Team tries to look forward

By David Barr davidbarr@pressandjournal.com
Posted 8/9/17

Competition has been the theme so far for the Middletown Area High School football squad as players and coaches prepare for the 2017 season.

That mantra is a good one to have as Middletown …

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What will the Blue Raiders football team do for an encore in 2017? Team tries to look forward

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Competition has been the theme so far for the Middletown Area High School football squad as players and coaches prepare for the 2017 season.

That mantra is a good one to have as Middletown will need to compete all year if they hope to come close to last year’s results.

Everyone around the program is aware of how good the Blue Raiders were last year, with a perfect regular season, a District 3 title, and a runner-up finish in the state playoffs, finishing 14-1. They were the first MAHS football team to advance to the state championship game.

But that was then with a different group of core players.

Nearly two dozen seniors graduated in 2017, including running back Jaelen Thompson, quarterback Chase Snavely, and receiver Laron Woody. However, Middletown does have some members of last year’s team returning, including running back Brady Fox.

None of that seems to faze head coach Brett Myers, who is returning for his fifth season.

“Our spring workouts have gone well. Guys are competing. Everybody’s doing a really nice job and trying to improve every day,” Myers said.

The team had more than 50 students try out during the spring. The challenges the team faces are the same as any other year, which are replacing graduated seniors, developing leaders, and creating chemistry and a culture that will lead to success, he said.

“Our guys are really working hard at doing that and it’ll take a little time and we’ll eventually, hopefully, get there,” Myers said.

The players have bought into Myers’ mindset of competing because the word was brought up again and again by players at PennLive’s media day on Friday, July 28.

“There’s a lot of competition within the team,” senior Tre Leach said, adding that so far practices have been up-tempo because everyone is working hard and no one wants to get replaced by someone else, no matter what their position or experience.

Senior running back/middle linebacker Brady Fox echoed Leach’s observations on the difficulty of establishing a pecking order within the depth chart.

“There are a lot of kids pushing each other. The younger kids love pushing us,” Fox said.

There is so much competition that Leach has only determined which position he’ll be playing on one side of the ball. He already knows he’ll be playing free safety on defense. He has yet to establish a position on offense. He’s been at different offensive skill positions in practice, including quarterback.

“It was easier than I thought it would be,” Leach said of trying different positions. “As long as I can help the team, that’s all that matters.”

Leach added if players know the plays, they can be successful in any role coaches ask them to be in and if the players give all their effort for each individual game they would “put ourselves in a good position to win.”

Middletown has the unenviable task of replacing two-year starter Chase Snavely at quarterback. Snavely, who has moved on to Lock Haven University, completed 60 percent of his passes last year, throwing for 2,243 yards and 25 touchdowns, while running for another seven. So far, Myers has had different players in the quarterback position.

“I’m not really concerned about it because guys’ll compete and in the end the best player will play,” Myers said.

As central as the quarterback position is, it will be tough to replace Thompson. All he did last year was rush for 1,605 yards, and 19 touchdowns, while adding 317 yards and four touchdowns on nine catches.

In his career, Thompson broke the school rushing mark, totaling 3,940 yards to top the 3,409 yards by Rodney Ramsey, whose last season was in 2008. He was one of five finalists for the Small School 2016 Mr. PA Football. He will play collegiately at Towson University in Maryland.

Fox is up to the challenge, since he complemented Thompson well the last two seasons. Last year, Fox rushed for 1,432 yards and 22 touchdowns, and caught nine passes for 123 yards and one touchdown, despite sharing the load with Thompson.

In fact, with more than 2,700 rushing yards in his career already, a standout 2017 season will make him the No. 1 rusher in Blue Raiders history.

“The fact that Jaelen’s not here, it’s going to be different for him a little bit because they were so close and they relied on each other, on and off the field. In the end it doesn’t really change how he looks at what we’re doing,” Myers said.p>Last year’s success might have had an unforeseen positive impact on this year’s season, given the amount of practice time.

“We got a lot of experience. We got kids that played 15 games last year. Compared to most people in the state, that’s a year and a half. If you even look at our JV players, they practiced an extra half a season last year so while I definitely think we lost a lot, there’s experiences that we will gain from last year. Even in the lack of success in the last game, there’s lessons to be learned there. Our guys are going to embrace that and take those on,” Myers said.

Myers said he knows his 2017 squad will face yearlong comparisons to the 2016 team, especially if the team gets off to a hot start.

But as wide receiver Tyreer Mills puts it, “we’ve got to work on what we’ve got to do this year,” instead of basking in last year’s success.

“There’s two different ways we look at it. As a program, that’s a nice thing, but this year’s team is a different team. In the end, it’s two different groups,” Myers said. “Every team has its own identity and this team has yet to find their identity and that’ll start with our first game. That’s what we’re focused about. We’re not looking in the rearview mirror, we’re looking through the windshield seeing where we’re headed.”

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