ARMAGH — One or two players can make a big difference in high school football — especially in Class A ball. That’s the nature of small-school athletics.
So, drop a nice, big defensive end into a roster of young players coming off a rough year, and he can provide a pretty big boost. Throw in a capable kicker in a conference that rarely even sees field goal attempts, and United has a couple new players that can make a pretty significant impact.
That’s what the Lions have in Seth McLendon, a 5-foot-11, 238-pound senior who transferred from Penn Cambria, and Jake Beacker, who was strictly a soccer player in previous falls but will take on football as well this season.
“I don’t want to brag about too many of (the players), but Seth McLendon is a stud,” coach Lance Holupka said. “This kid is legit, and I’m just fortunate that we ended up getting him.
“Things worked out our way for once in getting a kid. He’s legit at that D-end. He was a two-year starter up at Penn Cambria. You dream of the days when you can get kids like that just falling into your lap.”
“I don’t mind it,” the soft-spoken McLendon said of being a key player on his new team. “I’ve played before when I was under pressure. I was more of a blocker, though.”
On offense, McLendon will man the fullback position and should get his share of touches in the veer option offense.
“We have a good mix of kids to where if we want to go wishbone and run power football, we have McLendon and (halfback Tyler) Oliver in the backfield,” Holupka said.
McLendon brings some much-needed size to the roster. Just seven other players are listed at 200 pounds or heavier.
“I was just expecting to come play football and have a good time,” McLendon said. “I’m not in it for the glory or college or whatever. I just enjoy the sport.”
Beacker, a 5-foot-8, 133-pound senior, took advantage of the opportunity to help the Lions on the football field.
“It’s awesome that they let soccer players come up,” he said. “It’s a lot different from what I’m used to.”
Last year, Saltsburg’s Glenn Ritchie led the Heritage Conference in field goals — with two. Ligonier Valley’s Maddy Grimm, also a soccer player, made a difference for the Rams by booting 44 extra points.
So, the league is ripe with opportunity for good kickers.
“I noticed that every team doesn’t have a kicker,” Beacker said. “I’m glad to give United one.”
Beacker has hit field goals from as long as 53 yards this summer, and he said he’s accurate from within 45.
“I’ve booted them from everywhere,” he said.
He can also transfer his soccer-type athleticism to football as a receiver.
“He adds some speed to our lineup, has good hands, runs good routes,” Holupka said. “And he’s been hitting field goals in practice. … So I feel anytime we’re inside the 20, that’s a bonus for us, where we can get points on the board without stalling out in the red zone and turning the ball over on downs. If we can get a field goal there, that’s going to be huge.”