KARNS CITY, Pa. (EYT/D9) — It happens every year to every high school football team.
(Above, from left: Eric Booher, Cooper Coyle, Nate Garing and Joe Sherwin)
They move on to college or the work force. They take off their helmet and pads — their high school colors — for the last time.
The hope is the next crop of student-athletes will arrive to adequately replace them.
Some departing players, though, are harder to move on from than others.
The Karns City football team is dealing with that this season.
Gone are several staples of a program that has won back-to-back District 9 championships.
It’s difficult to replace a guy like Luke Garing, who battered defenses on the way to a 1,031 yards and 25 touchdowns last season. He was even better at linebacker, piling up 91 tackles — 15 for a loss.
It’s also hard to replace a guy like Jayce Anderson, who also cracked 1,000 yards last season as a running back for the Gremlins.
And how does a program replace its entire offensive line, as well as a solid blocking tight end? Karns City will have to do that, too.
“As a coach, that’s what makes it exciting,” said Gremlins’ coach Joe Sherwin. “What can you make with the new crop of kids you have? Some have gotten a little bit of experience in the past — not a lot, but they’ve gotten some.”
Karns City has always had a knack of reloading. Part of the reason why the Gremlins have been able to transition from one core group to another over the years is their penchant for playing a slew of guys throughout the course of the season.
They will again this year.
“We’re gonna play probably 15, 16 players, offensively and defensively,” Sherwin said. “We’re still trying to figure all of that out, get our pieces in the right spot.”
There are some stalwarts back to build around.
Eric Booher returns for his third year as the starting quarterback. All of his receivers, including walking mismatch Micah Rupp, return to the fold.
The 6-foot-2 Rupp plays like he’s 6-5 with his leaping ability. On defense, he’s also a shutdown-corner type who will blanket the opponent’s best receiving threat.
Junior Luke Cramer also returns — bigger and faster than ever.
Cramer will slide into Garing’s role at running back. He may be just as intimidating as Garing was.
“Luke Garing was an incredible player — he had so much instinct, and he was like a coach on the field for us, but Luke Cramer has a little different skill set,” Sherwin said. “Every kid is different, and they have to know they don’t need to be like someone else. They can be themselves.
“Cramer is going to be a big part of our team, offensively and defensively,” Sherwin added. “He’s 230 pounds now. He put on 20 pounds since last football season. He’s going to be hard to bring down. He’s probably a little faster. He’s gonna play some fullback and some tailback and you’re gonna see him catching some passes. He’ll be one of our main linebackers, too.”
The biggest task for Karns City early will be settling on a starting offensive line.
That was one of the strengths for the Gremlins last season and they have a stable of young linemen who Sherwin thinks can fit the bill.
They will also be asked to play along the defensive front as well.
“It’s going to be important for us to get these new guys in the right spots and established,” Sherwin said. “It may take two, three, four weeks before we kind of get settled into where guys should be and get the puzzle pieces in the right spot.”
Some freshmen may also fill some big roles — something that is a bit unusual at Karns City.
One of them is Nathan Hess, who will see some time in the backfield.
“I think he’s going to be a guy who’s going to surprise some people,” Sherwin said. “He has a motor like Luke (Garing) a little bit. He’s a bigger guy, a big-bodied guy, but quick.
“Sean Slaughenhoupt, Kolby Blair, Braden Slater, Cam Ealy — those are freshmen and sophomores not a lot of people have heard about,” Sherwin added, “but I think they’re going to be key contributors for us.”
Sherwin said Karns City will be very Gremlin-like in the workload the running backs get. The ball will be spread around to several players.
Last year was something of an aberration — Karns City rarely has one 1,000-yard back in a season, let alone two.
That’s how things shook out a year ago. Not so much this year, although Cramer could see a fair share of attempts in Karns City’s tried and true run-heavy scheme.
“We have a lot of guys who are going to be carrying the ball,” Sherwin said. (Wide receivers Cooper Coyle and Nate Garing) could be carrying the ball, too. I think that makes it more difficult on the defense.”
Karns City’s schedule is certainly difficult.
In the revamped District 9 league format, the Gremlins find themselves in Region 1 with Bradford, DuBois, Punxsutawney, St. Marys, Central Clarion, Brookville and Moniteau.
They also have non-conference showdowns with power Redbank Valley and Clearfield.
That makes leadership even more vital.
“They’re doing a great job bringing those kids along,” Sherwin said. “They’re telling them, ‘You have to do this. You have to do that’ and leading them. They realize they’re an important part of the team. The quicker we’re able to band together as a team, I think the better, more successful this season will be.”