Strength in numbers.
It certainly is an oft-used cliche, but it would be a very fitting slogan for the 2017 Hanover Rhinos.
2016 went out like a lamb for the team, as it dressed less than 20 players for the last 4 games of the season.
With 56 players on the roster to open 2017, this season has certainly come in like a lion.
Here’s what this increased depth has done- 15 of 22 starters from last year have returned. Of those, 9 are set to open the year as starters. Hanover has more than 22 starting-caliber players, which leads to increased competition for reps in practice. It also means if anyone goes down with injury, the Rhinos have an able-bodied replacement ready to step in and accel.
Sure, the subtractions like leading tackler Jeremy Renoll (101 tackles) and leading receiver Alex Isennock (191 yards) are never easy to fill. However, the Rhinos have both talent and pure numbers to throw at their two biggest losses.
Nowhere does the Rhinos’ voluptuous depth show up more than on the defensive side of the ball.
The defense, nicknamed “Darkside” by team captain Brandon Nicastro, comes into 2017 full of swagger.
“On the whole, the defense looks fantastic, and they’re probably going to carry us throughout the season,” Rhinos head coach Noah Sneeringer said. “It’s lights-out. It’s going to be hard for teams to run against us this year. We’re probably going to live off our defense, and I’m fine with that, because you don’t lose many games if they can’t score on you.”
The defensive line beefed up this offseason, adding big Jon Veitch and Trey Seymour to plug-up the middle. Seymour played for the Rhinos back in 2015. Another defensive lineman returning is Nicastro, who played for the Rhinos in 2012. Adriel Garbay adds much needed punch to a unit that recorded just 5.5 quarterback sacks last season. Other 2016 contributors that have returned are Michael Lowery, Dustin Knode, and Greg Ginter. Ginter recorded a half-sack last season, his first as a football player.
It’s a man who split time at d-end and linebacker last season that is the headliner of the ‘backer corps heading into this season. Richard Settle, who played at McDaniel college, will take his 87 tackles to outside linebacker, where he no doubt will continue to be a ballhawk.
Speaking of ballhawks, rookie linebacker Stefaun Rascoe had an unforgettable Rhinos’ debut in the Santa Bowl in December.
A 2014 graduate of York High School, Rascoe snatched an interception and took it 33 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter, and nearly added a second defensive touchdown on a fumble recovery in the fourth quarter.
Adam Day and David Harden put up excellent preseason stat lines in this group that also includes the Rhinos’ all-time tackle assist leader, Dorell Blue.
The secondary is the most experienced group. ‘The Deflector’, Charles Smith, enters his fourth year in Hanover, and he’s joined by 3-year AFA veteran Bashawn McFadden, as well as Rhinos returnees Isaac Tynes, Dominic Cotterino, and Amir Pearson. The breakout star of the group last year was rookie Jack Isennock. Isennock placed 4th on the team in tackles last year, with 27, and tied for the team lead with 3 interceptions. He also became the first player in Rhinos’ history to score two defensive touchdowns in one season. The 2016 AFA-all star will rotate in on defense this year.
The big news of the offseason was the return of quarterback Chase Scharf. Scharf played for the Rhinos from 2012-15 before leaving last year to play for the York Silver Bullets. In his 2017 return to the Rhinos, the goal is simple- improve on Hanover’s 16.5 team quarterback rating of 2016.
The backfield is strong, with big, bullish runners Bernard Jackson and Twon “Choo-Choo” Lyles leading the way. Diego Simms, Zach Deneen, and Phoenix Russell will also vie for carries. The fullback position is a little more clouded, as several players, including Roland Johnson and Michael Lowery, are competing for snaps.
The receiving corps was the deepest part of the offense last season, but four of the top six yardage gainers are gone. Dominic Cotterino looks to climb the Rhinos’ career all-purpose yardage list, on which he currently sits 12th. Hannibal Flores returns to Hanover after playing for York last year as well. He brings plenty of veteran experience and playmaking ability to the field. Coming over from Germantown to bolster the passing game is receiver Matt Aumen. Raymond Henry, Jaton Herder, Lloyd Welford, and Erik Young also figure to see snaps at receiver.
The tight end position is an interesting mix of players with differing skill sets. George Bell is an expert route runner. Adrian Acevedo has great hands and excels in the blocking game, and Jordan Gardner is a raw athlete.
The offensive line returns mostly intact. 4 of 5 starters return. Perhaps the Rhinos’ best-graded player is left tackle Dustyn Lauver. He was an all-star last year, and he anchors the unit. Other returning starters are guard Jason Landis, tackle Travis Garretson, and center Greg Day. This group gave up just 2 sacks per game last year.
Special teams is, as always, anyone’s guess, but Cotterino was a key performer on both kick/punt return and coverage last year.
3/11/17 @ Virginia Beach Rhinos
The players and coaches have been chomping at the bit to get the season started, and here’s their chance. They’ll jump right into things with a stiff test. VA Beach posted 3 straight winning seasons and two division titles before stumbling to 4-6 last year.
4/8/17 vs. Maryland Phantoms
The fans have to wait 4 weeks for the home opener, but boy, do they get a serious matchup for the first game in Hanover. The Phantoms have long been the stumbling block for the Rhinos. These two teams could very well finish 0ne-two in the division.
4/22/17 vs. York Silver Bullets
67-0. That’s all that needs to be said to get the blood boiling of the players who were here last year. For those new to the team, they will get indoctrinated to the fiery nature of the PA-116 rivalry in this midseason game in Snacktown.
Career tackles (101, Jeremy Renoll)- Renoll set the tackles record solely with his performance last season. He also played in ’12, ’13, and ’14, but no records are available for those years. Dorell Blue is the active leader in this category, just 10 tackles away from breaking the record. However, speedy tackle-machine Richard Settle is just 15 tackles away, and more likely to reach the mark first.
Career receptions (25, Allen Neiderer)- Dominic Cotterino is nearly halfway to the record as 2017 starts. He posted 12 catches last season, and figures to feature more prominently in the offense this year, so this record could fall relatively quickly.
Career QB hurries (11, Lloyd Williams, Adriel Garibay)- Garibay is a safe bet to break his tie with Lloyd Williams atop the franchise quarterback hurry list, although his real goal is sacks. Hovering close behind is Dustyn Lauver with 9, but he will play mainly offense this year.
Season defensive PPGA (2014, 10.0)- This is the number that will ultimately measure the level of Darkside’s greatness. In order to beat Jimmy Moffitt’s 2014 Rhinos defense, the current team will have to hold opponents to 99 points or less on the season. The gold-standard is the 2013 Virginia Beach Rhinos defense. They gave up just 9 points per game. Hanover will need to give up 89 points or less to set the league record.
Career punting yards (558, Chris Bowlin)- The rallying cry around practice this week was ‘Let’s not punt, let’s score’. Even with that said, the Rhinos will punt at some point, and as long as Gardner doesn’t kick a brick, like his 1-yarder in the Santa Bowl, the record will be his.