For the Hanover Rhinos, that new dawn has already arrived.
Snacktown’s warriors kicked off their pursuit of improvement on Saturday and Sunday, with tryouts for the 2017 squad.
Roughly 40 young men showed up at the Hanover YMCA on each day to display their skills to the Rhinos’ coaching staff, and also to put in work with potential teammates on formations and techniques.
Hanover looks to leave behind the sting of a disappointing 2-8 season that set franchise record lows for winning percentage, fewest points scored, and most points allowed. Instead, the black-and-red clad squad looks to recapture the glory of 2013-15, when they posted three straight winning or playoff seasons.
“Last year was a pretty low season for the organization,” said head coach Noah Sneeringer. “If we win games, it will get people buzzing (in the community). Obviously, you always want to compete for a championship, but we just want to get better every practice. Our focus every week is going to be getting better.”
While the Atlantic Football Association regular season doesn’t start for another five months, the Rhinos will begin preparing for the crown-jewel of their fall schedule, a December 3 date with the Southern Maryland Gladiators in Hanover’s annual Santa Bowl benefitting Toys for Tots.
“It’s definitely great waking up knowing that the Rhinos are back on the field,” Sneeringer said. “It’s a great time of year knowing that football is back. High school comes back, and then college, then NFL, but the first week you’re actually back on the field with your team is great.”
The seventh head coach in Rhinos’ history, and 6th to coach a regular season game, Sneeringer enters his first full season at the helm. He was named the interim head coach for the final three games of last season.
Sneeringer was a three-year varsity football player at Delone Catholic from 2007-09. An interior lineman during his playing days, he offers expertise in both long-snapping and line play.
The head coach spent most of the three-hour tryout session working with the offensive and defensive line.
Two-way tackle Dustyn Lauver, the blue chip anchor of the lines last year, returns for his second season. Despite being a team captain and all-star last year, Lauver still feels there is room for improvement.
“If Arian Foster breaks the NFL rushing record, he can’t just stop there,” Lauver said. “He’s got to keep going and try to break the record again. You have to keep going, don’t stop.”
Along with a number of familiar faces, a number of players new to the Rhinos showed up at tryout weekend.
Among the new players who made a splash was defensive end Devon Jackson.
Nothing is more fearsome than watching Jackson shed a blocker and come after the quarterback, which he did repeatedly in one-on-one drills Sunday, with Sneeringer standing in to represent the quarterback.
“I’m happy I’m not a QB in this league,” Sneeringer said. “This guy is quick, strong and fierce. That’s a scary combination for a lineman to try and block.”
Jackson drew Lauver’s attention from the very beginning of their first session together.
“I saw his size, and underestimated him,” Lauver said. “Our first bout, he put me on my heels, shocked me. I lined back up to go again, and Noah said, ‘Do you want redemption?’. I like that. It’s friendly competition.”
When asked after practice which other player really caught his eye, Jackson looked around for a second and his eyes lit up.
“That defensive lineman. He’s a challenge,” Jackson said, referring to Lauver. “He’s a good sportsman, too. Too many lineman have anger problems. I pancaked him the first time, and he got up and said ‘That’s the first time I’ve had real competition in awhile.'”
“There’s a lot of talent scattered around at our different positions,” Lauver said. “It betters people to go against guys who are strong at your position.”
“Devon really put me to work,” Lauver added. “He’s very, very skilled. It’s a blessing to get all these people.”
Jackson played high school ball at Aberdeen, Maryland, but is originally from Texas.
Several long-time Rhinos attended tryouts looking to continue their tenure with the club.
Four-year veterans Dorell Blue and Charles Smith will once again look to anchor the defense.
At 62 years old, offensive lineman Greg Day has been working hard this offseason, and will attempt to play at least another season.
Quarterback/Receiver Chase Scharf put in a day of work on Saturday, as he returns to the Rhinos after spending last year with the York Silver Bullets.
Players with experience playing for several other teams in the AFA also attended, including players formerly of Germantown and Franklin County.
Several former local high school standouts were there as well.
Bermudian graduate Phoenix Russell and Littlestown high school graduate Joey Taylor are among the local stories to follow for the Rhinos.
Sneeringer mentioned excitement over doubling the number of players from last year’s tryouts.
He noted that only 20 players attended in 2015, when Sneeringer was an assistant coach.
Adam Bostian, Rhinos co-owner, is back as defensive coordinator. He also the second-winningest head coach in franchise history.
“Things aren’t that much different (for me) than last year,” Sneeringer said. “Having Adam as defensive coordinator makes things easy for me. We think alike, and even finish each other’s sentences. We have a true 1-2 punch at the coaching position.”
Sneeringer stated the multiple head coaching changes last year as a big factor in not building team camaraderie.
A familiar face is being added to the coaching staff this year as well, Jeremy Renoll. Renoll, who led the league in tackles last season, even donned his trademark hat for Sunday’s session.