The Elizabethtown Bears football team was 9-41 in the five seasons prior to coach Bill McDonald’s arrival. In his first year with the team, they went 2-8 and in his second year they went 6-4.
The former offensive coordinator at Lancaster Catholic returns four starters on offense and eight on defense. The Bears’ defense gave up 16.1 points per game and were particularly stifling on the road as they only allowed 8.8 points per game.
The marks were good enough for fourth in the Lancaster-Lebanon League and second in Section 2. Defensive coordinator TJ Rudy will return in addition to the eight starters.
“We have some good guys that can put their hand down. Our linebacker and defensive backs, a majority of them are back so we’re hoping that they can make a nice improvement from last year. We know how to play a little bit of defense,” McDonald said.
Cade Robinson, an All-State safety and wide receiver, was instrumental in the defense’s success. He led the team in tackles with 139 (13.9 per game) and also had seven pass deflections, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, an interception and a blocked field goal.
Robinson, listed at 6-foot-2 and 175 pounds, brings ideal size to the position and said that he is more comfortable in his role than he has been in prior years because the coaching has stabilized. Rather than trying to learn a new system, Rudy’s 3-4 defense has allowed Robinson and his teammates to get more comfortable.
“When I was younger, I was probably a step slower. I’m always reading the line play, whether it is a run or pass. Once you figure that out you can go all-out wherever the guy is,” Robinson said.
The senior said he has received interest from several Division II schools and some “smaller” Division I schools, but that is not going to distract him throughout the season.
“My senior season is the most important thing. We’re looking to have a good season this year and that’s what is on my mind right now,” Robinson said.
Micah Garber started at quarterback for the Bears last season and completed 60 percent of his passes with 17 touchdowns against nine interceptions. The team passed for 1,823 yards and rushed for 1,431 yards. McDonald credited his group of seniors for the balanced approach on offense.
“We improved our offensive production by almost 1,000 yards from my first year at E-Town to my second year. We strive to be balanced offensively. We made significant improvements from year one to year two so we’re hoping that we can make another jump here from year two to year three,” McDonald said.
Senior Dane Hilsher and junior Cole Patrick are competing for this year’s starting job. Either Hilsher or Patrick will be turning to hand the ball off to sophomore running back and linebacker Devyn Clair.
Last season, Clair rushed for 148 yards on 26 carries (5.7 average) and two touchdowns. Defensively, he was third on the team in tackles (60) and had 8.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and one recovery.
Clair said that while he likes getting the ball on offense from time to time, he still likes to tackle.
“I like to run inside because it’s a lot more cutting and you have to read more players, which is fun. On defense you want to watch the line and if guards are pulling because that can tell you sometimes that the ball is going that way,” Clair said.
Elizabethtown will play their neighboring rival, Donegal, in the season opener on Friday, Sept. 1, at 7 p.m.