These are heady days for the ELCO football team as the 2023 season begins to unfold.
Consider this: The Raiders, who boast a roster of 67 – 67! – players, the most in Bob Miller’s decade-plus as head coach, are set to break in a new turf field on Aug.31, when they host Annville-Cleona in the home opener.
ELCO is also preparing for its second season as a member of one of the top leagues in the state. That would be Lancaster-Lebanon Section 4, which features reigning District 3 champs Cocalico (5A) and Wyomissing (3A), as well as perennial powers like Lampeter-Strasburg and Berks Catholic.
And ELCO takes great pride in each and every opportunity it gets to knock heads with the big boys, win or lose.
In addition, the Raiders have never enjoyed such a high profile, both in their school community and across District 3, as evidenced by the almost unheard of in ELCO history turnout of 67 players and the well-publicized CPR training event that the team hosted last week in an effort to get everyone in the program certified in the life-saving exercise.
In short, it’s a lot of fun to be an ELCO football player right now. Maybe more fun than it’s ever been.
“I’m excited about how the kids have made it such a destination place,” Miller said. “To be in that locker room has become pretty special.The numbers have really grown. And it’s not just kids showing up for attendance, they’re putting in everything you would need to have a successful program. I’m pretty excited about it.”
Miller was quick to credit former athletic director Doug Bohannon and current ELCO athletic director Tommy Mealy with providing tools necessary to build the program up to the point where it can take on the many challenges in Section 4, but it has been Miller’s intensity and leadership skills and the dedication that the team has displayed in the weight room that has keyed the Raiders’ rise.
Though just 4-6 in each of the past two seasons, ELCO, which enjoyed a run to the 4A district title game in 2020, is a long way from being an automatic out, even while occupying a high-rent district like Section 4.
“The way I look at it now is we’re kinda where we belong,” Miller said. “The kids have elevated themselves in the weight room and in the offseason to put themselves in the position to be competitive, week in and week out. We’re gonna fight every play.”
The Raiders enter this season’s bout led by senior running back Jake Williams, a speedy and special breakaway threat who piled up over 1,800 yards on the ground en route to capturing Section 4 Back of the Year honors in 2022. And if ELCO is able to go toe-to-toe with the bevy of powerhouses on its schedule, Williams figures to be the catalyst of it all, pounding the rock in ELCO’s heavily run-oriented attack.
“Thank God,” Miller said, with a chuckle of being blessed with Williams’ services for another season. “He’s got a really cool leadership style, too. Very quiet, very humble.”
Joining Williams in the backfield will be the winner of the competition for the starting quarterback job between juniors Gavin Bicher and Steven Rosado. Also slated for playing time in the backfield will be senior Elliott Kreider and junior Mitchell Frederick.
On those rare occasions when the Raiders do take to the air, Bicher and/or Rosado will be looking for senior wideouts Sara Miller, Bob’s daughter, and James Prosser, who has opened some eyes after coming up from the JV team and Jordan Hartz, who caught one ball last season.
Up front taking care of the dirty work for Williams and company will be junior Brayden Molloy, Williams’ younger brother, Paul Williams, a sophomore, and juniors Tupac Vasquez-Disla, and Luke Bailey. Also expected to join the battle up front will be sophomore tight end Phillip Horst.
Williams and Malloy will also anchor the defensive line, and joining them in the trenches will be Grady Stoops, Bailey and Isaiah Antley, while Kreider, Bicher and Frederick will make up the linebacker corps.
In the secondary on patrol are Zane Trostle, Jackson Conners, and Justin Smucker.
ELCO opens its season on the road on Aug. 25 at West York, before battling A-C on the turf in Myerstown on Aug. 31.
“We really want these kids to continue to develop the standard of ELCO football, in terms of effort every single play, like ‘the scoreboard, wins and losses are never going to define us’ type of thing,” Miller said. “We have the opportunity to play in what I think is the best section in the state. I want them to show that ELCO belongs.”
Head Coach: Robert Miller
Assistant Coaches: John Carley, Robert Williams, Wyatt Hall, Earl Thomas, John Wetzel
|53||Alex Muniz Cruz||Sr.||OL/DL|
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