Hanover Rhinos’ wide receiver Raydel Ragland (10) runs the ball vs. the Lancaster Outlaws in this April 7, 2018 file photo. Photo Credit- Chris Bunty.
HANOVER, Pa.- In his three years as a Hanover Rhinos coach, Noah Sneeringer has been doing everything he can to get the word out in the community about his team.
“There’s so many schools, that the talent is unreal,” said Sneeringer of the York/Adams area he grew up in. “We could make an all-star team and be championship competitive.”
It seems like Sneeringer’s local pull is starting to pay off. Many new faces were at the Rhinos’ tryouts for the 2019 season, which were held the morning of Saturday, September 29th at the North Hanover YMCA.
A couple of Gettysburg-born players that finished their high school careers elsewhere have been on hand for the first two Saturday sessions of the season, as well as some players from the York and Westminster areas, and a whole host of familiar native Hanovarians.
Getting players from Gettysburg has been an especially hard task for the Rhinos the last few years, despite the presence of three Gettysburg high school graduates, Adrian Acevedo, Cody Klinefelter, and Lakeith Parker on the roster.
Last year’s quarterback Corbin Bailey would appear to be the unquestioned starter at quarterback heading into the spring AFA season, but one can never have too many signal-callers, especially in the fall. Among those auditioning for spots on the QB depth chart is 18-year-old Gettysburg native Samuel Shea.
Shea, a left-hander who played semi-pro baseball this summer for the Gettysburg Grays of the South Penn League, played his high school ball at New Oxford, seeing time mainly on special teams with the Colonials.
“I missed playing football,” Shea said, “and my older brother played in the league previous and recommend playing for (Hanover).
The highlight of the opening tryout session came from the left arm of Shea during 7-on-7 drills at the end of the day. Taking a snap less than 10 yards from the goal line, the southpaw took a quick drop and rifled a pass into a tight window along the back line of the end zone. On the other end of the pass was new wide reciever Chris Conley, who anchored both sets of toes to the ground long enough to extend for the ball and pull it in before tumbling out of bounds.
“We ran a fade on the outside and a corner from the slot,” Shea said. “The wideout was pretty open, so I tried putting it up high so the corner wouldn’t be able to jump it.”
“Excellent placement, solid form…(Shea)’s a natural talent,” said Sneeringer said. “We’ll see if he’s coachable.”
Conley, a former Carroll County Cannon who has proven to be quite the character on the Rhinos’ private Facebook page, had a major hand in the success of that particular play as well.
“It was an IQ play,” said Conley. According to Conley, he was called to run a fade route in the huddle, but adjusted the route based on the defense and the fact that they were facing the short field on the goal line.
The 29th marked Conley’s first time on a football field since he completely tore his ACL and MCL two years ago.
“Honestly, I was pretty embarrassed,” Conley said. “Coming back from such a big injury and not playing for two years, I’m not back yet physically to where I usually am. It’s really frustrating. I was running through drills thinking to myself ‘I can’t be moving this slow’. But it feels great to be back in the sport I love. I’m just looking forward to getting all of our guys on the same page so we can function efficiently as a unit.”
One player who has never accused himself of being slow is second-year wide receiver Raydel Ragland. “The Human Joystick” was back to destroying the ladder drill and all other agility drills put before him. During an early drill, he expressed his desire to surpass his team-leading 12 receptions from last season.
With 17 catches in the coming season, he will pass current Rhinos’ record-holder DeAnte Weldon for the team’s career reception record.
But above all, Ragland has one aching desire.
“I love football, it’s all I can say,” Ragland states. “I just love the game, but what I really want to do is win a championship.”
It likely won’t be long before the diminutive Ragland is back to his self-proclaimed favorite pastime- “collecting ankles” at practice.
Very few feats were as impressive as Zach Deneen’s team-record-tying 3 sacks vs. the Maryland Phantoms on 5/6/17.
The versatile two-way player was named an AFA all-star in 2017, but last season, he took the year off from football.
“My schedule is a little more free,” Deneen says. “I still wanted to play last year.”
Having an all star-caliber player back in the mix is always a good thing, but it remains to be seen exactly what positions Deneen will see the most time at in 2019.
“I’d like to get more involved on offense,” said Deneen, who had the longest rushing play of the year for Hanover in 2017.
Part of the York contingent that’s been working out with the Rhinos is wide receiver Matt Fritz.
A 2010 graduate of West York high school, Fritz was there for the beginning of a 7-year streak of winning seasons for the Bulldogs’ football program.
The wide receiver is also a two-year veteran of semi-pro ball, having played for the York Generals and Central Penn Piranhas.
Fritz was impressed with the atmosphere at his first Hanover Rhinos’ session.
“It’s organized and professional,” he said. “We got here and started stretching right away and got to the point. A lot of times with these things, with other teams, there’s a lot of messing around for 30-40 minutes. It’s nice to get to the point.”
After drills were over, Fritz added, “It kinda feels like family already with how everyone interacts with eachother. You feel the small-town atmosphere, fans were even out here watching.”
Indeed, several groups of fans were seated in lawn chairs or standing around the outskirts of the lower field at the YMCA on tryout Saturday, catching their first glimpse of the 2019 Rhinos.
It was a mix of old and new faces alike that they saw suiting up for their hometown team. Back for another year is 64-year-old center Greg Day, who has been a member of the Rhinos from the very beginning of the franchise reboot in 2012. Day is a perfect example of the semi-pro mindset. He worked 13-hour days most of the summer at Letterkenny Army Depot in Chambersburg, which kept him from getting any offseason workouts in, but he loves the team so much that he still came out this year.
Veteran cornerback Charles Smith and linebacker Dorell Blue, who have become the faces of the franchise, are back for another year, as is quarterback Jake Orner.
Among the new faces is Gettysburg native Brandon Andrews, who finished his high school career in 2010 as a running back/linebacker for Chambersburg.
“The fact that there are a lot of new faces (has me excited),” said Ragland. “I love the old faces, but new faces is what gets practice excited.”
The Rhinos’ first exhibition game is the annual Santa Bowl, which will be held at Manheim Adventure Park in Glenville, Pa, at 1 PM on Saturday, December 1st, 2018. Admission to the game is free for those that bring one new unwrapped toy, which will go to local area Toys for Tots.
The season will start sometime between late February and the end of March. The AFA’s schedule usually comes out a month or two before the season. Be on the lookout for the release of the schedule here on Rhino Charge!