With a refurbished home stadium, Northern Lebanon head coach Jason Rice also hopes for a refurbished team to go with it.
The Vikings’ playpen, Frederick Gahres Stadium, received a major facelift in the offseason – including new entrances, a pavilion deck at the north end zone in front of the grassy knoll, new concessions and a fieldhouse for the players. The playing surface also got a facelift, but remains grass.
“It’s on the same patch of ground,” Rice said, “but I can assure you, it is not the same. State-of-the-art stuff.”
Inhabiting the new old space is a Northern Lebanon squad that split its first four games a year ago before ending its campaign on a six-game skid, to finish 2-8 overall in the maiden voyage of Lancaster-Lebanon Section 5, created when L-L absorbed Berks County teams for football.
Despite being classified a 4A school, NL was slotted in Section 5. An attractive grouping to be playing in on paper, it did not go according to plan.
“Honestly, I think it was our (over-)confidence,” Rice replied when asked what derailed last year’s season. “We thought very highly of ourselves. Not that we were looking down on our section, but we did think that we could compete. So when our backs were up against the wall, some of those teams we thought we would have success against, we didn’t really succeed, from that aspect.”
Sophomore quarterback Kael Erdman, who started the last couple of games a year ago, takes control of the Multiple Spread in Fredericksburg. Erdman, 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds, had some success during his end-of-season cameo, but also had James Voight to throw to. Voight is now a walk-on Penn State.
“Kael showed that he has what it takes,” his head coach said. “His style does revolve around him staying in the pocket. Now, my offense does blend in a little bit of RPO with that drop-back style, and that’s the aspect I’m diving deeper into with him. He can still utilize the mental aspects of being an RPO quarterback to be successful.”
Speedy Myles Watson returns as the top running back for the Vikings. “Myles already has the skill set that makes him dangerous in space, and we’re working with him to help develop his patience in the box, which has gotten a lot better,” Rice said.
Tanner Feagley, an all-conference defensive end last year, assumes the top receiver spot from Voight. “Quick off the edge, quick and physical player,” Rice said. Feagley actually saw time on the offensive line last year, in a pinch, and performed admirably.
Moises Gonzalez lines up opposite Feagley. He’ll also see time at back in certain packages. All-state linebacker Luke Shaffer, at 6-2, 225, mans the tight end position. “If you throw it in his vicinity, with his wingspan, it’s likely to be caught,” Rice said.
The offensive line is undersized a bit, according to Rice, but it does not concern him. “Our guys are smart and quick and explosive off the snap of the football,” he said.
Eli Thompson and Hayden Adams, both juniors, return at tackle, both having started since their freshman years.
The 4-2-5 defense is back. “We’re not the biggest, but we move fairly well,” Rice said. “We’re able to bring some pressure.”
Thompson, Adams and Feagley will figure on the line, the latter at DE.
Shaffer’s presence at linebacker, as QB of the defense, will be without a doubt the other team’s key on Friday nights.
“It brings a sense of comfort, knowing that you have a kid like him back there,” Rice said. “His ability to play smart, shed blockers and get to the football in hurry is impressive.” Shaffer clocked a school-record 141.5 tackles last season.
The secondary features a freshman, Bryce Yocum, who Rice is excited about. Yocum will start at what the program calls the “jack” position, an outside linebacker/strong safety hybrid.
“The kid’s gonna be good. He’s still growing, but his ability to understand and play the position is what’s earned him the nod for it,” Rice said of Yocum. “He’ll hold that down.”
Gonzalez pairs with Yocum on the other side.
Brendan Ryan will start at free safety. “(Ryan) might be one of the fastest kids on our team,” Rice said. “And he’s gained the confidence in tackling whoever, wherever, whenever. He’s not afraid to hit some people.”
Rice’s main goal for the Vikings in 2023 is simple.
“We want to compete in every game,” the third-year head man said. “We’re not trying to dial it down to ‘we want this many wins’. We want to be in the game in every fourth quarter, no matter which opponent we’re playing.”
Northern Lebanon Vikings
Head Coach: Jason Rice
Assistant Coaches: Mark Rice, Josh Thompson, John Heisey, Josh Wolfe, Rusty Wallace, Hunter Wallace, Collin Wall
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Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article had the incorrect number of tackles by Luke Shaffer in the previous season. We sincerely regret the error.