By Harold Raker
The Daily Item
Two of the pleasant surprises among Valley football teams this season were the turnaround by Selinsgrove and the solid season by a young Danville team.
The Seals, 1-9 a season ago, lost in the final regular-season finale to Danville in the de facto Heartland Athletic Conference Division I championship game. Both went on to win District 4 titles with the Seals winning a state playoff game and Danville falling to eventual AA state champion Wyomissing.
The choice for The Daily Item Coach of the Year was a tougher one and resulted in the sports staff naming Co-Coaches of the Year — Danville’s Jim Keiser and Selinsgrove’s Dave Hess.
Keiser took a young team which had sustained key graduation losses, most notably quarterback Andrew Andreychik, and guided the Ironmen to the Heartland Athletic Conference Division I championship as well as a District 4 Class AA title, beating Mount Carmel, a team many favored, in the finale. After the loss the following week to Wyomissing in the PIAA quarterfinals, Danville finished 11-3.
“I am honored, especially to be named with Dave. He is someone I respect very much and has accepted me from day one,” Keiser said when informed of the Co-Coach of the Year honor.
Going into the season, Keiser admitted, he did not expect to be a district championship-caliber team. But things changed.
“I really didn’t expect to make it to the state quarters. We were bringing back a young but somewhat experienced team but with us breaking in a new quarterback and having to rebuild the defensive line and the lack of size, we were just hoping to get into the playoffs and hopefully build off that for next season, much the way we did in 2009,” Hess said.
He said that as the season went along, they saw the improvement of the young players and the coaches began thinking they might make a little noise in the playoffs.
That they did. The Ironmen won the school’s first District 4 Class AA championship since 1991, and first of any kind since winning the AAA crown in 1999.
He said the team is excited about next season, not just because of what happened this year, but because of the attitude of the kids after the playoff loss.
“They saw what they need to do to get to the next level and to beat a team like Wyomissing, and it is a lot of hard work, and they are willing to do it,” Keiser added.
Seniors paved the way
Hess led a remarkable turnaround with his Seals, coming off a 1-9 season in 2011 and going 10-4 with a District 4 Class AAA championship and a berth in the PIAA quarterfinals.
He also said he was honored to share the award with Keiser. “He is a man I admire so much; we just have so much respect for Jim and his Danville football team.”
Hess said this season felt much like the 2008 year, his first as the head coach, when the Seals lost 10-7 in the state semifinals to Archbishop Wood because it was a young team and the kids achieved something that had never been done before.
But he said this season might have been even more gratifying than the 16-0 state championship season in 2009, when he was named the state’s Class AAA Coach of the Year “because our team proved that the good guys can win in the end.
“This group of kids was forced to make a conscious decision to ignore all of the negativity and all the naysayers, focus on a common goal, and work toward it.
“I’ve never been around a group of kids who are more resilient and mentally tough. This group stayed positive, stuck with their teammates and got the job done. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Among the keys to the season, he said, was the senior leadership from guys like Brett Hummel, Harley Stahl, Andrew Rhein, Tyler Krebs, Logan Benner and Mike Walter, “(They) all stepped up and led the team in a positive way.”
He said they also had a lot of talented young players come into the program at the right time.
“Juvon Batts and Zach Adams were an unbelievable freshman/sophomore combination in the offensive backfield. They are two of the most talented young guys I’ve ever seen,” said Hess, adding that freshman defensive tackle Andrew Boob and sophomore tight end Dylan Beaver did outstanding jobs.
In addition, he said, “We have the best coaching staff I have ever been a part of at Selinsgrove. I honestly can’t take credit for what happened this season. I spent most of my time at practice watching some of the best coaches in the state work with our kids on a daily basis.”