While the turnout for Hanover Rhinos’ tryout weekend 2017 was below what was expected, the bottom line remains: football season is here for Hanover’s semi-pro team. This was the scene last Sunday, September 24th, 2017. In the hot afternoon sun, on an open patch of grass off of a back-alley in McSherrystown, a rag-tag-looking group of about 15 players in various different attires was assembled. They were lining up at their positions, tossing the ball around, and taking instruction from the most experienced members of the group. Players wore everything from raggedy old sleeveless t-shirts, to neon colored socks and pants, while some were sans shirt.
The brain trust of Snacktown’s warriors sat about 30 yards away, making verbal notes and discussing the state of the team and the league it’s a member of, the Atlantic Football Association.
While the general consensus of the coaches was that not much could be gleaned in terms of what talent the team will have this year from the two workouts, the weekend is as important as it’s always been, because it signals a beginning.
To understand the importance of this beginning for the Rhinos, one must look at the end to last season.
There’s no hiding the fact that the Rhinos didn’t achieve what they set out to achieve in the 2017 season.
Last fall, a bevy of new faces on defense came in with an attitude, one that Hanover wasn’t going to be trampled on by their opponents anymore.
The identity of the defense was formed, and they branded themselves “Darkside”. The sky seemed the limit with the confidence and bravado of this group, and it seemed like historic league records were within reach.
While 2017 wasn’t a historic season for Darkside, with the exception of one home loss to the Maryland Outlaws, the unit kept its promise that the Rhinos wouldn’t be beaten easily.
Competitive games against York and Thurmont, teams that whipped the Rhinos in ’16, were joined by very competitive games against two of the league’s best, the Virginia Beach Rhinos and the Maryland Phantoms.
Despite losing some key personnel in the final weeks of the season, the Rhinos competed for a playoff spot in the last game of the regular season.
Hanover had a talented Franklin County team on the ropes late in the third quarter before Isaiah Keyes’ 104-yard interception return opened the floodgates for the Tigers.
With the final attainable team goal slipping through their fingers, the Rhinos were left to ponder what happened to the swagger and attitude of the fall. Their 3-7 record was boosted by one forfeit win, so they won as many games on field as they had in 2016.
Even though the record was virtually the same as the 2016 season, the Rhinos just felt like a more competitive team in the spring of 2017.
Despite this, with the goals of 2017-18 the same as they were at this point last year, it’s natural for an outsider to question what is going to be different this time around.
“Everyone is excited when the season starts, and expectations are high,” Rhinos’ head coach Noah Sneeringer said. “You always have your eyes set on a championship.”
What, aside from a clean slate and a fresh 0-0 record gives the Rhinos’ organization belief they can chase that elusive first championship in the 2018 season?
“We had a lot of new faces last year,” Sneeringer says. “We struggled with chemistry early on. With the veterans we have returning, we’ll have a jumpstart on the chemistry aspect. You combine that chemistry with the talent we have. The Hanover Rhinos could catch a lot of people by surprise.”
Also, Sneeringer, who begins his second full year as head coach, after having the interim tag removed last fall, enters his third full year calling the offensive plays for the Rhinos.
“Year three is a big year for a coach,” Sneeringer said. “They say that’s the year that your system really gets to take hold. Number three is about getting in, getting your system running, and you get to see what you’ve got, which is the big thing.”
Despite the rest of the league continuing to cast aside the Rhinos as the same 2-8 team from 2016, the men who played on Snacktown’s 2017 edition know this team made strides.
Back again are Charles Smith and Dorell Blue, who both spent time on the field at the tryouts.
“With the guys out here today, I see talent we can put on the field,” said Blue, a veteran linebacker who enters his 6th season with the team. “Hopefully, when practice starts, we can get rolling with more numbers.”
Blue, who worked his way from bench player under Jimmy Moffitt in 2013-14, to trusted starter in 15-16, stepped back into more of a reserve role on defense last season. He recorded 19 combined tackles and his first sack in two years during the 2017 campaign.
“(One of my goals is to) ball harder than I have in previous years,” Blue said. “I feel like I could have been better in previous years.”
Smith, a 6th-year cornerback from Baltimore, pointed out the need for more team unity in 2018. “Last year, when we lost, we ripped each other apart, and it wasn’t even after the game, it was during the game, on the sidelines” Smith said. “As a team, we gotta build up teammates and morale, and keep things positive.”
Smith enters 2018 just 3 deflections shy of breaking Lakeith Parker’s all-time team record of 13.
Among the “new” faces who tried out for the Rhinos is one familiar to those who have followed the team closely since its reestablishment in 2012.
Matt Reid played for the team during the fall training portion of 2013 under then-head coach Chris Welker.
A muscle-bound, bearded defensive end who is anything but stocky, Reid is a sight to behold.
His resume is also impressive, as he played football for Millersville University.
“I wanted to (be a part of a team again,” Reid said. “When you go so long not being a part of a team, you lose the team mentality. When you’re on a team, guys have each others’ backs, and you have theirs, and I miss that.”
His efforts are certainly welcome on a Rhinos’ team that will look to replicate it’s impressive 32 sacks from last season.
“(Matt’s) not average. He’s taking horse pills,” Blue joked. “He’s got size and speed on defense.”
Now, the Rhinos will look to build on that size and speed, as well as all the other talented players they have, in the coming weeks. The mission to fill out the 60-man roster doesn’t stop until a few weeks into the regular season in the spring, but the Rhinos are hoping to fill it ahead of the first exhibition game. That game is the Rhinos’ annual charity game, the Santa Bowl, which is on December 2nd this year.
The Rhinos are still welcoming interested players and coaches to contact the team. This can be done via the Hanover Rhinos Football Facebook page, by calling Chris Bunty at 717-465-0782, or by showing up at Hanover Rhinos’ practices, which are Sundays at 12:00 noon, at Moul Field, on 151 Moul Avenue, Hanover, Pa, 17331.
The Charge is on for 2018!