Richland had a historic football season in 2012.
The Rams finished with a14-1 record last season, won their first District 6 crown and advanced to the semifinals of the PIAA Class AA playoffs before falling to state runner-up Aliquippa.
At Friday’s Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference Media Day, Richland was targeted as the top team to beat again this year.
With 11 of the 12 schools represented, the Rams received 10 first-place votes. Forest Hills received the second-highest number of votes followed by Greater Johnstown and Bishop Guilfoyle. Others receiving votes were Bishop McCort, Somerset and Penn Cambria.
Central Cambria got the other first-place nod.
Richland coach Brandon Bailey and his team are putting the past in the rear-view mirror.
“Success breeds success,” Bailey said. “Now that we have had some success over the last couple years, our kids absolutely expect to win every time they go out on the field and will be very distraught if they don’t. So they’ve been working very hard. They are not resting on their laurels and they have bigger and better goals than even this past season.”
The Rams have plenty of reason for optimism, with many of their skill players returning.
“Luke Shertzer is really the only guy that scored touchdowns who isn’t going to be back,” Bailey said. “We’ll miss him, but hopefully some other guys will step up and fill his shoes.
“What people don’t see is the offensive and defensive lines. We had some outstanding kids that were physically strong and also mentally strong and great leaders on the team so we need to replace those kids. We have some kids that we think have been outstanding jayvee players and very good junior high players, but it’s a whole different level when you play varsity football.”
Returning senior quarterback Matt Shaffer said that being known as the team to beat is a great motivator.
“It puts fuel to the fire knowing that we are the team to beat and teams are after us,” Shaffer said. “It makes us work harder during the offseason and every practice and every game. We look forward to competing in every game at a high level.
“Complacency will not be something that we have to worry about because I think our guys understand that we didn’t do exactly what we wanted to do last year in winning a state championship so I think we are all going to compete hard to try to get back to that level.”
Added prolific senior running back Tanner Solarczyk: “Last year is done with and we want to do it again and hopefully win states this year. We want to win 16 games this year, not 14.”
Junior running back/safety Dominic Farina said that while it’s flattering to be the team to beat, it also means that his team has to come ready to play each week.
“We have to understand that every single week, the target’s on our back and everyone is going to be gunning for us and we have to be on our toes every second,” Farina said “We have to bring our ‘A’ game every week.
“We know what it takes to win, but we also understand that we have to get better. It was a great experience last year, and obviously the first in school history, but we are not satisfied. We want to go farther. It’s all about this season.”
Much of the success that Forest Hills is looking for, is based on the return of junior quarterback Joe Donoughe, the area’s third-leading passer last season.
“Our quarterback is going to keep us moving this year,” senior guard/defensive tackle Anthony Gibson said.
Senior running back/
linebacker Dustin Ohler said that the Rangers, who were 9-4 last season, will also be speedy.
“We are willing to get out there and work for what we want,” Ohler said. “Hard work is key because everyone wants to win.”
Forest Hills coach Don Bailey said that having good kids at the skill positions and an experienced quarterback are the positives for his team, but that the Rangers still have plenty to overcome.
“Our line may be smaller than it was last year,” Don Bailey said. “We only have one returning starter back on the offensive line and several younger players not returning because of shoulder surgery.
“We only have five or six seniors on the team. I think as the season progresses we will get better because of being so young.”
Nearly every coach in the conference talked about the parity throughout the league and mentioned that limiting injuries will be keys to the outcome.