HANOVER, Pa.- The voting for sixth annual Atlantic Football Association All-Star teams has concluded, and 6 Hanover Rhinos’ players will be making the trip to Baltimore to represent the Northern Conference.
The All-Star Game will be held on Saturday, June 24th, at Woodlawn High School in Gwynn Oak, Baltimore County. Kickoff is slated for 3:00 pm, with the AFA Bowl VII championship game to follow.
Much like last year’s selections, the Rhinos’ 2017 all-star choices feature a mighty defensive flavor.
The six Rhinos who were voted in are defensive end/running back Zach Deneen, two-way tackle Dustyn Lauver, linebacker Stefaun Rascoe, defensive end Roland Johnson, safety Lloyd Welford, and wide receiver/linebacker Phoenix Russell. Russell is unable to attend the game, so linebacker David Harden has been named as his replacement.
All seven of the Rhinos’ all-stars spent time on the defensive side of the ball this year, with three of the players also playing a significant amount of snaps on offense.
Five Rhinos capped their AFA rookie seasons with the all-star nod, while two veteran Hanover players are making their second all-star appearance.
The all-star selections were chosen in voting done by the owners of each of the other 6 teams in the Northern Conference.
Lauver earned the most votes of any Rhino, getting the nod from all 6 opposing owners. After emerging as a leader on both sides of the ball in the 4th game of the season in 2016, Lauver has been a pillar of consistency. Despite not consistently playing the same position each game on the offensive line in 2017, the Bermudian Springs’ graduate still made his impact felt. While learning the art of playing center, Lauver seamlessly transitioned to being the nerve-center of the offensive line. When he did take up his stance at his customary tackle position, he was fleet-of foot and dominant as ever. There’s no bigger evidence of The Big Loov’s importance to Hanover’s offensive success than the Rhinos’ game vs. York on 4/22/17. With Lauver in the game, the Rhinos gained 40 yards on 25 offensive plays. While that itself doesn’t seem that impressive, consider the fact that once Lauver left the game with an injury, the Rhinos could only stay on the field for 12 plays that lost 22 yards.
Lauver, who was one of the 7 unanimous all-star selections in the Northern Conference, is making his second all-star appearance in his second season.
Lauver said that the most important part of the all-star experience is “having fun and getting better experience playing with other all stars.” He also hopes to improve on his performance from the All-Star Game last year, when he made 3 tackles and 1/2 sack.
Welford earned 4 of the possible 6 votes after his historic 2017 season in Hanover. While the Spring Grove graduate came up two interceptions shy of breaking the Rhinos’ single-season record, held by his high school teammate Caleb Burns, Welford passed Burns for the most career interceptions in Rhinos’ history on 3/25/17. He picked off one pass in each of the first four games of the season before teams stopped testing the Rhinos’ safety on deep balls. Still, he managed to tie for the team lead in pass breakups, with 3. Despite coming up 7 tackles short of his personal goal of 50 on the season, Welford set the team’s career mark for stops with 127. He also doubled his career all-purpose yardage total, racking up 215 total yards on kick returns and interception returns, moving him to 9th in Rhinos’ history.
Welford appeared in the 2015 All-Star Game as a replacement player.
“It’s definitely an honor,” Welford said. “I don’t know how the voting or anything like that works, but it means a lot someone thinks I was standing out on the field. It’s a big relief to finally get voted in.”
Travis Garretson, who was appointed as an alternate for the 2016 All-Star Game, recruited Deneen for the Rhinos this past offseason. Little did either of them know the stout two-way player would be the one of them representing the team as an all-star this year.
“It was a surprise to me,” Deneen said about being voted in. “To be honest, I didn’t feel like I played my best football this season, so to be picked for the All-Star Game definitely is an honor.”
After losing the battle for a starting linebacker spot in the preseason, Deneen plied his trade anywhere the team needed him. In the second game, at Susquehanna Valley on 3/25, he dashed for 46 rushing yards. His 33-yard run in that contest served as the Rhinos’ longest rushing play of the season, and helped boost Deneen to 2nd in yards per carry among all qualified Hanover rushers at 5.1 for the season.
However, his biggest impact was made on 5/6/17, when, playing as a defensive end, he tied the team record for sacks in a single game with 3 vs. the powerful Maryland Phantoms.
Deneen also grabbed 4 of 6 possible votes.
Stefaun Rascoe was the third Rhino to grab 4 of 6 votes, and the gifted linebacker will be headed to Baltimore to celebrate his rookie season.
He got the attention of everyone on the Rhinos when he had an interception return and fumble return for a touchdown in the Santa Bowl during the preseason, but, as soon as the regular season started, he immediately caught the eye of anybody that played the Rhinos. Rascoe won the starting middle linebacker spot alongside Adam Day in training camp, and the fact that he pushed athletic tackling-machine Richard Settle to the outside linebacker position says it all about Rascoe’s ability. He made six starts in 2017 for Hanover, finishing 2nd on the team in tackles (47), and tied for 2nd in sacks (3.5). Rascoe also tied for the team lead in forced fumbles (2), and was second in fumble return yards (19).
“It’s an honor that all my work has payed off, and this is the first step to getting better,” Rascoe said. “It’s a chance to represent my team and teammates.”
Russell picked up 3 votes, but due to his commitment to the U.S. Army, he will not be able to participate in the game. A high school teammate of Lauver at Bermudian Springs, Russell became the first player in Rhinos’ history to score a touchdown on both offense and defense in the same game on 4/29.
“I feel like offensively I’m more of a threat,” Russell said. “But, with not having a strong offense this year, I feel as if I was more solid on defense this year.”
Roland Johnson was the final Rhino voted into the All-Star Game, receiving two votes. It was an all-around impactful season for the intense defensive end, as he tied Rascoe for second on the team in sacks, with 3.5. Johnson recorded 10.0 tackles for loss, resulting in 46 yards lost for opposing offenses. The cherry on top of his fabulous season was a blocked punt on 3/25 that resulted in a safety. With the Maryland Redhawks in 2015, Johnson was voted an NEAFL all-star, but did not get to participate in the game.
“I’m pumped,” Johnson said. “It’s a great experience to play in another all-star game for another team, it’s always great to be an all-star.”
Harden led the Hanover Rhinos in tackles this season, with 53. It’s quite an impressive feat for the team’s smallest regular starter. Listed at 5’8″ 160 lbs., Harden is easily the toughest pound-for-pound member of the squad. A former high school football national champion, Harden had at least 3 tackles in all 9 games in 2017. He also led the Rhinos in yards lost on TFLs, with 60. From Bel Air, Maryland, the game is right in “Baby Warrior”‘s backyard.
” It means a lot of course,” Harden said about being an all-star. “It means the hard work I’ve put in has been noticed. On the flip-side, the reason I play isn’t to get approval or praise from the league or even my coaches. I just love the game, and have a blast playing.”
George Marinos, the Rhinos’ team statistician, will be heading to Woodlawn High School to cover the Rhinos’ all-stars on all-star weekend. Look for his recap and stats on Rhino Charge, the Official Blog of the Hanover Rhinos.