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Rodgers, Mifflin County ready for new year

LEWISTOWN — The Mifflin County Tomahawks begin season number 14 with high hopes of extending their six-year playoff streak and earning a third career trip to the Keystone Bowl.

The quest for a Great Eastern Football Association (GEFA) post-season berth begins today when the Tomahawks face the Cumberland Valley Hitmen on the road at 4 p.m. at Veterans Stadium in Shippensburg.

Brian Rodgers, Mifflin County coach and co-owner, feels he has the right mix of veterans and newcomers to make another playoff run.

“We need time. I feel like we have as much talent as we ever had, but we lack practice and scrimmage time together. There are many pieces, so getting that time of playing together and gelling we are lacking,” Rodgers said. “Our third scrimmage, we had most of what you’ll see playing Saturday, and what I saw was a really good defense and an offense capable of putting up points. I feel if we can get some time playing together, this could be a very dangerous team down the stretch.”

Multi-positional player Isaiah Reed (offensive and defensive line, kicker, and punter) likes the team’s makeup and the possibilities for an excellent season.

“The guys are working hard. We have each other’s backs. We are getting better with each practice and look forward to the start of the season,” Reed said. “We will get better and better as the season moves along. All the other teams in the league better watch out.”

One hallmark of a Rodgers-coached team is a stellar defensive unit. This year should be no different. GEFA 2020 Defensive Player of the Year, Charles Faust, and veterans Chris McClellan and Mason Sweitzer, along with newcomers Muhammad Cousins and Michael Tiernan, anchor the Tomahawk defense.

“Our defense has the potential to be our best one yet. We’ve always prided ourselves on good defenses. This is the most talent I’ve ever had at corner,” Rodgers said. “We are loaded at corner, loaded at safety, and our linebackers are solid. One of them (Faust) was the Defensive Player of the Year. Our defense is going to shock a lot of people. We are going to be good across the board.”

Sweitzer will work on both sides of the ball besides providing leadership for the squad.

“Mason’s worked hard in the off-season. I’m trying not to play too many people on both sides of the ball, but Mason will be one of those guys,” Rodgers said. “He’s getting a lot of looks at tight end and on the defensive line. I hope he’s in shape. I think he is up to the task. He’s going to step up and take a big leadership role on this team. I’m happy where Mason is.”

After the retirement of Shane Scott this off-season, Mifflin County has to break in a new quarterback. Rodgers likes what he sees from newcomer Terrell McGraw, younger brother of Tomahawk receiver Daquan McGraw.

“If Terrell wasn’t our quarterback, he’d be a starting corner. He had an excellent high school career in Maryland. He went on to play some 11-man football and Arena football,” Rodgers said. “He’s a young guy, only 24 years old. He has a great arm. He’s unbelievably accurate. He’s also a super mobile runner. He has all the pieces. For him, it’s getting comfortable in the pocket and making the right reads. If he can do that, I’m telling you, he is an athlete, who will impress a lot of people.”

A quarterback is nothing without a solid line, and Terrell McGraw is lucky to have a veteran group on the offensive front.

“Tony Shearer always anchors the left end of the line, and you can always build around Tony. He’s the stable guy, a three-time all-star, so he is great there,” Rodgers said. “Kenny Smith is at center. He took it upon himself to rebuild his body. He lost around 30 pounds, and he’s so much quicker. He watches film, and he’s made it his obsession to get better. I’m excited to see what he can do for us this year.

“We have Jason Schultz at right tackle. And we have an exciting newcomer in Wilbert Smith who is at tackle and may play both ways. He’s starting at Nose, and playing at another level. We are solid on the offensive line.”

The receiving corps has a chance to make significant strides in 2021 with a depth of experience and an exciting prospect.

“We’re hoping to see some brother-to-brother action with Terrell throwing to Daquan. R.J. Buford is one of the best prospects to come through here in a long time,” Rodgers said. “He’s getting into a groove. He’s the one guy we are having trouble covering in practice. We also have Timmy Beck. Lou Banks is improving. We have some exciting receivers, and we want to get them the ball.”

Kyle Kahley departed at tailback, creating a void in the backfield that needs filling. Rodgers believes he has the ingredients to make a successful transition.

“We have Chase Pitts, and he helps us. We signed a new guy, Terrell Young-Tull, and we nicknamed him Speedy. He works hard. He’s not a big back. He has lights-out speed, and he’s tough. I’m very happy with him.”

With COVID-19 limiting the schedule to only eight games this season, everyone counts. Every game means something. Not a simple task in a Mountain Division loaded with talented squads like Upper Dauphin, Moshannon Valley, and Cumberland Valley, who are back in the league after a year’s absence.

“Our division is loaded. I still don’t know why they put the Hitmen in our division, but there are no weeks off. Every game is a playoff game,” Rodgers said. “There are games we have to win. With Covid and guys having to work, you can’t slip up, or you’re out of the playoffs.”

The coaching staff returns intact, with Brian serving as head coach/defensive coordinator. Son Jesse Rodgers is the offensive coordinator, Charles Pent returns as special teams coach, Josh Kloer handles the running backs, Noah Rodgers works with the receivers, and McClellan will be a player/coach with the defensive backs.

One notable event this season will be a game dedicated to the late Vince Inzerillo of Vince’s Pizza, a long-time sponsor of the Tomahawks.

“We will have a game dedicated to Vince this season. He was a huge part of our organization. He sponsored the team, came to the games, and always gave us everything we needed,” Rodgers said. “He was my friend. It’s going to be strange not seeing him at the games. I sure will be thinking about him, so we will do a game in his honor to do something nice for Vince.”

Rodgers has an optimistic outlook as Mifflin County begins a new season. Making some noise in the playoffs is the goal.

“Obviously, we want to make the playoffs. If we keep everybody healthy and we can come together, I think we can do that,” Rodgers said. “We control our destiny. The last few years, we’ve made the playoffs but lost in the first round. Our goal this year is not just to get there but do some damage when we get there. Last year, we lost three games by a total of 15 points. When you finish a season with four losses, it shows how close we were to a 7-1 season. We have to win those close games. If we do that, it could be an exciting season.”

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