The Lebanon High School football program is no stranger to adversity. 

Mired in a 33-game losing streak that dates back to the 2020 season, the program was dealt a further blow in the offseason when the head coach resigned. 

The new coaching staff is working to change the program’s culture for the upcoming high school football season and beyond.

Read More: Something mysterious has brought Tyler Pritchett and Lebanon football together

About 30 members of the 2024 edition of the Cedars and the coaching staff were among more than 200 people who attended an inspirational presentation by Rocky Bleier, who has known his own share of adversity during his lifetime. 

The former Pittsburgh Steeler and four-time Super Bowl champion was told he’d never play in the National Football League after he suffered what were thought to be career-ending injuries while serving during the Vietnam War. 

Bleier shared his uplifting life story on Thursday, May 23, during 75th anniversary celebration festivities for Cornwall Manor at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Lebanon. 

Not only did Bleier overcome those injuries to his feet and legs, he, along with fellow running back Franco Harris, were the second set of teammates to rush for over 1,000 yards each during the regular season of the NFL. They are in elite company as only seven sets of teammates have achieved that goal in the history of the NFL.

Former Pittsburgh Steeler Rocky Bleier makes a point during his inspirational speech to over 200 attendees. (Provided photo)

Lebanon senior quarterback Brandyn Castro thought Bleier’s presentation was amazing.

“With this new environment around us, we really dig in on those topics that he discussed and everything that he said I think really hit home with me personally,” said Castro. “I saw some of the boys (his teammates) nodding their heads in agreement with everything that he said. We really want a championship culture and this, in talking to us, is going to affect us in the future and have good, positive feedback for us.”

During his nearly hour-long chat, Bleier highlighted the formula to create a winning culture in football and in life. 

“It takes hard work and dedication, commitment, and passion. It also takes leadership and people and vision and briefness shoved into a capsule that no matter what we may do, we love to call a team,” said Bleier. “And throughout our lives, we’ve heard many definitions of that: Team. What about that acronym, T-E-A-M? Together, everyone achieves more.” 

Castro noted that the Cedars football program is embracing the “brotherhood of football” and is working together to break a losing streak that spans multiple seasons. After Bleier spoke, new head coach Tyler Pritchett told his team to further cement their bonds as teammates by spending time together during the long Memorial Day weekend.

“With us, we just take it day-by-day and we go 1 and O every single day,” said Castro. “In everything we do, we go 1 and O. In the classroom, we have to go 1 and O first, that’s the main topic. When we condition, we have to go 1 and O. We go 1 and O in practice and everything we do. That’s our new mindset and that’s the motto we live by.”

Rocky Bleier, front left, poses for a group photo with eight Northern Lebanon High School players and special teams coach Josh Thompson, front left. After this photo, the former Steeler running back, who won four Super Bowl titles in his gear, allowed all of the players to wear one each of his Super Bowl rings he won during the 1970s. (James Mentzer)

Sgt. Josh Thompson, a National Guardsman at Fort Indiantown Gap, said he admires Bleier since he is a soldier who served his nation during two tours of duty in Iraq. Thompson is a special teams coach at Northern Lebanon High School and brought eight senior players with him to learn from Bleier’s experiences. 

“It is a great example of what I try to teach the kids and that’s being a part of something that’s bigger than yourself,” said Thompson. “We try to give our kids examples of people like this and they were able to see him in real life. To see how he carries himself this late in his life after all he’s done and all he’s accomplished is really inspiring for the kids. Coaches can talk about this, but to see it and experience it, I think that’s where the real value is.”

Thompson added there are numerous lessons Bleier imparted that he’ll share with the whole Vikings team as they progress towards the 2024 season.

“I think the biggest takeaway was his humility,” said Thompson. “He was fifth on the depth chart and eventually got to play because a player got hurt. Today, some kids, if they are not a starter on day one, don’t have the perseverance to keep on grinding. Another thing I’ll use with the kids is that Bleier wasn’t a starter because he was bigger, stronger or faster than others, he was a starter because he was a good blocker, which is something anyone can do if you want it bad enough.”

Russell Beers, a Northern Lebanon High School senior who plays left guard on offense and left tackle on defense, said he was impressed with Bleier’s story. 

“I was impressed by just how he was motivated to persevere throughout all of the challenges he went through in life and how he was able to overcome all of these obstacles,” said Beers. 

It was several seasons after Bleier returned from Vietnam before he played on a regular basis, including one season where he had only one carry and was only on the field during special teams.

Wayne Anthony, a Lititz resident who came to Lebanon to hear Bleier speak, said he always wanted to meet the former Steeler given how Bleirer’s life parallels with people he knew who served in Vietnam. 

Wayne Anthony of Lititz came to Lebanon County to hear Rocky Bleier’s inspirational message, which the former Steeler running back gave at the Church of the Good Shepherd last week. Anthony gave a thumb up to Bleier’s talk to the crowd of more than 200 attendees. (James Mentzer)

Despite growing up near Meadowlands Stadium and becoming a New York Giants fan as a young boy, Anthony donned a Steeler jersey with Bleier’s name and No. 20 on the back for Bleier’s visit to the Lebanon Valley. 

Anthony also purchased the VIP experience held earlier in the day at Cornwall Manor and he had Bleier sign the back of his jersey, which he did along with SB IX, X, XIII and XIV to designate the four titles won by the Steelers during Super Bowl nine, 10, 13 and 14.

“I lost two cousins in Vietnam and I know what he (Bleier) went through. It was terrible,” said Anthony. “One cousin came home in a body bag and my other cousin came home and I visited him at Walter Reed Hospital, minus two legs and an arm. When Rocky talked about that person (triple amputee) tonight, it could have been him.”

During his presentation and during an exclusive pre-event interview with LebTown to promote his visit to the Lebanon Valley, Bleier highlighted an experience he had while in Vietnam. 

He spoke of a fellow soldier in the hospital who had a sunny disposition despite being a triple amputee. Bleier noted that if that fellow soldier could remain positive, he could get over feeling sorry for himself and adopt that same attitude despite his injuries.

“His (Rocky’s) story is uplifting and he emphasizes doing your best,” added Anthony.

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James Mentzer is a freelance writer whose published works include the books Pennsylvania Manufacturing: Alive and Well; Bucks County: A Snapshot in Time; United States Merchant Marine Academy: In Service to the Nation 1943-2018; A Century of Excellence: Spring Brook Country Club 1921-2021; Lancaster...


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