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PREVIEW: New Coach, New Scheme and Wealth of Talent, Especially Up Front, Has Keystone Excited for the 2022 Campaign

KNOX, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Not long after Todd Smith got the job as the head football coach at Keystone High School this spring, he went to work.

There was a new offense to install.

And some new players to run it.

(Above, from left: Kyle Nellis, Cole Henry, head coach Todd Smith, Tyler Albright and Aidan Sell.)

Coming off a season in which the Panthers won the Small School South Division title, Ryan Smith stepped down and Todd Smith was tapped as the next coach.

Todd Smith, who is also the baseball coach at Clarion-Limestone, spent the last two years as the offensive coordinator at Butler.

He longed to be a head football coach again — he filled that role at Clarion-Limestone from 2003 to 2009, and then returned to the Lions as the offensive coordinator from 2016-2018.

The chance to lead the program at Keystone was something he couldn’t pass up.

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Redbank Valley, Keystone, and Union/A-C Valley sports coverage on Explore and is brought to you by Heeter Lumber.

“I wouldn’t change anything about the road I’ve been on,” Smith said. “I think everything happens for a reason. When the opportunity came to coach these guys and get back to being a head coach again, I was excited about it.”

The players took to him well, too.

“It’s gone really smoothly,” said senior center/defensive end Cole Henry. “I think it’s kind of a fresh start for all of us, getting to know his play style. I think it’s going to work well for us.”

“I think it fits us real well,” added senior wide receiver/defensive back Tyler Albright. “I think this offense really gets the most out of us.”

Smith’s players wasted little time diving into the playbook.

“Generally, I would feel like we’re behind, but these guys are really committed this summer,” Smith said. “I mean, even from May, we had Saturday practices and then we got into things in June. The commitment level as been unbelievable.”

Smith’s new offense has little resemblance to the old Keystone attack.

Smith likes to use multiple formations — some spread, some power-I and even some wing-T — to strike a balance between the pass and run.

He inherits a big, physical and strong offensive line that has the potential to be dominant.

The 6-foot-4, 250-pound Henry is the anchor of that line. Josh Beal is another 250-pound people-mover at guard. Elijah Will is a junior guard who moved into the district from Texas. Haden Foster makes the switch from tight end to tackle. And then there’s junior Brock Champluvier, a 6-3, 330-pound behemoth at the other tackle spot.

“That’s really one of the strengths of our team,” Smith said. “So, we’re going to run the football and we’re going to do that out of the I some.”

Another big move Smith made was shifting senior Aidan Sell from wide receiver to tight end/H-back.

It’s an important position in Smith’s offense.

“It takes somebody who can block and catch the ball,” Smith said. “He can do both of those things. It really takes an unselfish person and he fits that mold perfectly.”

Nellis figures to get the bulk of the carries.

Last year, the senior was a big weapon in all phases of the game. He rushed for 756 yards and seven touchdowns, caught eight passes for 157 yards and two more scores and also averaged an eye-popping 36.1 yards per kick return, scoring one return TD.

On defense, he also found the end zone twice on interception returns.

Nellis is more than eager to get going.

“I’m pumped. I’m ready to go out there tomorrow,” Nellis said. “I think we need to go out and go as hard as we can and stay together. If we do that, if everybody does their job, we should have a really good season.”

Albright is also itching to get on the field. He’ll get some carries out of the wing-T sets as well as be a primary receiver. He led the Panthers with 19 receptions for 439 yards and four touchdowns.

“I want to do more than I did last year,” Albright said. “Build off of that. I feel like if I get the ball in my hands, I can make things happen. I just want to do everything I can to help the team win.”

Smith will also be breaking in a new quarterback. Bret Wingard, who was a threat last year with his arm as well as his legs, graduated. Junior Rayce Weaver takes over the job. In very limited action last season, Weaver was 2 of 3 for 43 yards and a touchdown.

“Rayce is going to be a junior and he can run and throw the ball,” Smith said. “In my offense, that really benefits us because it doesn’t limit us in what we can do. He’s been doing a good job.”

The key for another successful season may lie outside of anyone’s control.

Keystone, like most small schools, must have some luck on the injury front. If a few key players go down, it could changed fortunes quickly.

“We’re going to try to practice smart and still do the things that we need to do to have our players ready on Friday nights,” Smith said. “I think the camaraderie of our team is another strength we have. They all get along. They don’t care about who gets credit for stuff. And I think, with the talent we have and that kind of attitude, we can do great things.”

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Redbank Valley, Keystone, and Union/A-C Valley sports coverage on Explore and is brought to you by Heeter Lumber.