MAHAFFEY— It wasn’t much fun at the time, but the Purchase Line Red Dragons are better for the trial by fire they underwent last season.
Now is the time for them to benefit.
The biggest and most experienced of the Dragons spent much of last season on the sidelines, injured, while the smaller underclassmen got whacked around on the field.
Nine months later, the young roster that remains has valuable varsity playing experience.
“Ideally you don’t want to have to play young kids, but at a small school, you get injuries and it happens,” second-year coach Brandon Overdorff said. “That’s the only alternative. You hope it makes them tougher. You hope it gives them experience. We did have a few kids that aren’t playing this year that got an opportunity last year. You hope it doesn’t scare them away, because it’s a tough, rough game, and when you’re not quite ready to be in there, it’s not a good deal. You’ve got to just take it as it comes and roll with the punches. In the long run, it pays off as a team and as a program. Sometimes you’ve got to take some hard licks early on. You’ve got to walk before you can run.
“We’re going to play some young kids again this year. You hate to have to do that. Everybody would like to come into the season playing 11 seniors on defense and 11 seniors that have been there for three years on offense, but we’re not in that position this year.”
“It was a shame that Luke (Stolitza, the starting quarterback) had to get hurt, and then I got thrown in just in the middle of a game, but it was a learning experience,” said senior Alec Sunderlin, who will start at quarterback from the get-go this year.
What the youngsters saw in game action wasn’t pretty. The Dragons lost their first six games under Overdorff, and the injuries piled up even more quickly, forcing Purchase Line to dig deeper into its depth chart.
“We kind of fell apart,” senior receiver Todd Greene said. “We got scared, basically, because of all the injuries and just never really picked ourselves up after everything happened and just never brought ourselves together to win that many games.”
“We saw what the losing side looks like, so we’re going to try to turn that around,” Gavin Ewing, another senior receiver, said. “All the speed of the game and everything, we got used to that. A lot of the players did because of injuries and stuff like that.”
The Dragons also are better prepared from having spent more time with Overdorff in charge, especially a full offseason.
“The one thing I learned, it’s good to be here for a full year,” the coach said. “I didn’t get in here until late June last year. I think being here for the whole offseason and summer helps kids get more comfortable with me and vice versa. We get to know each other, you know what buttons you can push, and we’ve got a system that’s been in place for a year now.”
“We got the intensity through games and then came into the weight room in the offseason,” Sunderlin said. “We even did a little bit of spring ball to get us ready for the summer, and now we’re here working hard.”
Sunderlin has Ewing and Greene as receivers, and junior Grant Syster steps into the big shoes of graduated running back Josh Huey. Quentin Woods, at 6-foot-2, gives Sunderlin another target at tight end. Zack Bartlebaugh is the fullback.
Andy Bouch mans center, Colin Jennings and Jordan Huey are guards, Jordan Johns and William Syster are tackles.
On defense, Huey plays nose guard, flanked by ends Johns and William Syster. Grant Syster and Woods play outside linebacker, and Royce Bish, Bartlebaugh and Adam Farmery are inside. Greene and Ewing man the corners, and Sam Stanford is at free safety.
“It’s not a big group; it’s a young group, but I think they’re going to play hard. In fact, I know they’re going to play hard,” Overdorff said. “It’s a hard-working set of kids that have shown commitment, and it’s just going to bring them closer.”
Overdorff is slowly building things at his alma mater.
“We hope to change the culture,” he said. “We haven’t been real successful here, so we’re trying to get back to where we can fight ourselves back into a competitive race for the championship at some point. That doesn’t happen overnight, but our culture’s changing a little bit. There’s a little bit of buzz around what we’re trying to do. Facility-wise, we’ve upgraded our weight room. We’ve upgraded our uniforms. All that stuff looks pretty, but we’ve got to get it done on the field. That’s what changes the culture, when you start to win football games. Then everybody wants a piece of it.
“But that’s what we’re trying to do. Our kids are working hard toward that, and there’s a little buzz around our program. They know things are different. Everybody in our district knows something’s going on here.”