Player losses mean Tomahawks are facing a season of change
LEWISTOWN — The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, “There is nothing permanent except change.”
After years of success and stability, the Mifflin County Tomahawks and co-owner/coach Brian Rodgers enter the 2019 Great Eastern Football Association season facing sweeping change. With 14 new faces dotting the roster and plenty of familiar names gone, it will be a transitional season for the Tomahawks.
A number of players stepped away from the game: Leshawn Brown, Harry Lowber, Will Frazier, Jason Schultz, Kevin Grenoble, Joe Mohr, Chris Maldonado and Caleb Gehman. All were significant contributors to Mifflin County’s success.
Center Derek Yoder is out temporarily while honoring a commitment to the military. Moving to other teams are Jordan Bell and Jon Bell (Upper Dauphin), Rob Albro (Moshannon Valley) and Brian Reinhart (Mount Joy).
“Those are some heavy losses. It will be a matter of seeing how the guys we brought in step up and play. We brought eight rookies in which is something new for us,” Rodgers said. “The truth is there were some guys on the team keeping us from recruiting new blood. We needed to make those moves. There are no hard feelings. Now, we have a different energy and feel. Sometimes a new broom sweeps clean. It was time for a change.”
Despite winning three consecutive Mountain Conference championships and going to the Keystone Bowl two of the last three seasons, Rodgers is more than happy with the changes.
“After last year, I was ready to hang it up. There was no enjoyment for me anymore. It was too much chaos on the sidelines. Too many guys complaining,” Rodgers said. “We had leaders who weren’t leaders. Captains who weren’t captains — and I take full responsibility for that. It’s so different this year. The excitement and energy are fantastic. These guys want to do what’s best for the team. The excitement is back.”
Brown, one of the top passers in the league the last four seasons, went back to his home state of Ohio, leaving a huge hole to fill.
“Over the years, Leshawn did a great job for us. His daughter moved to the Cleveland area and he wanted to spend more time and be near her,” Rodgers said. “I knew it was getting to a point where his tackle football days were behind him. He’s doing well. He did a lot of great things for us.
“Quarterback is the most important position in this league, just like in the NFL. That’s why Nick Foles is getting $50 million dollars a year, because the league is starving for quarterbacks. It’s the same way here. Quarterback was a position we never had to look at because of Leshawn.”
Taking over the signal-calling reigns is Shane Scott, who came over from the Moshannon Valley Vikings. The former basketball star brings his talents and a famous pedigree to the re-vamped Tomahawks lineup.
“He moved over here with some of his teammates. He was a basketball star at West Virginia and actually played for the Pacers a year and then throughout Europe,” Rodgers said. “His uncle is former Lakers star and coach Byron Scott. He comes from an athletic bloodline. He’s an older guy, we simplified our offense a little bit, but he delivers the ball, hangs in the pocket and he’s not afraid to take a hit. Shane is going to be a valuable part of our offense.”
Two key returnees are Kyle Kahley at fullback and linebacker and Mason Sweitzer on the defensive line
“Kyle Kahley is back and he’ll be starting both ways. Mason is back and he will move around between defensive end and tackle,” Rodgers said. “They will be key leaders for us this season.”
Rodgers is confident his defense will be as strong as ever even with all the new faces in the lineup.
“Our corners are the best I’ve ever seen. Matt Short is playing at another level now. We have Boochie Lowber who is doing outstanding. Another guy we picked up from the Kings, Tom Huber, he’s going to give us depth at the position. Chris McClellan is back, so is Chase Pitts,” Rodgers said. “Even though it’s different people, it’s still the same concepts with some of the same guys in the same positions. I look for us to be decent defensively this year.”
Newcomer Simeon Younger joins Timmy Beck and Short in a revamped receiving corps.
“Younger is a two-time Arena Football all-star who will see time in the slot. Beck and Short are back and can make things happen,” Rodgers said.
Center Dylan Luckovitch and guards Tony Shearer and Brady Specht all return to give the O-line consistency.
“We have the same offensive line we went 10-0 with two years ago. Derek Yoder has military commitments and won’t be back until week six, but we have Specht, Shearer and Luckovitch,” Rodgers said. “We’ve dumbed the offense down a little bit. It’s more because we aren’t sure of personnel yet. We are dealing with eight rookies and six guys who came from other teams, so that’s 14 personnel we have to figure out where they fit in. It’s going to be around week three or four before we know where these guys will be and give us the best chance to win.”
In the conference race, Rodgers sees the usual suspects with one newcomer in the mix.
“Upper Dauphin moved to our division. I’m told they are very good. Moshannon Valley, who made it to the Keystone Bowl last year, is solid and DuBois has loaded up again,” Rodgers said. “We have a lot of meat ahead of us. We’ll take it week-by-week and see how we do. That’s our motto — one game at a time, one win at a time.”
One change this year is in the structure of the postseason. There will be no cross bracketing in the playoffs. The top four teams in each conference make the playoffs with the top seed in each conference meeting the fourth seed in the same conference with the two seed getting the third seed.
“This will be our most challenging year to repeat as conference champions. The important thing is to make the playoffs and once were in, it’s just a matter of winning games,” Rodgers said. “Hopefully, we can keep everybody healthy and have a good season.”
Rodgers will be the defensive coordinator with Charles Pent running special teams and Jesse Rodgers handling offensive coordinator and offensive line duties.
The Tomahawks open the season today on the road against the Capital City Gorillas at 1 p.m. The home opener is March 26, against the Jefferson City Jaguars, also at 1 p.m.