Last season, for the first time this decade, Lancaster High School won a Section VI playoff football game. The Legends fell a game short of reaching Ralph Wilson Stadium with a loss the following week – but as far as this year’s club is concerned 2015 was only the beginning.
With a lot of talent back, the Legends paid their dues in the offseason and have the bar set high as the sky in 2016.
“We want to finish what we started last year,” said senior running back Zach Samborski, who set the program’s single-season rushing record last season. “We want to win a championship, for sure. I’m really excited. We’ve been putting in a lot of work, since January really. We’ve been doing a lot of work, six-hour practices. We’ll be ready.”
Samborski ran for 1,339 yards and 22 touchdowns last season – both new school marks. He’s part of an offensive unit that includes six returnees, including dynamic wide receiver LG Castillo, who has committed to play baseball next season for the University of Oklahoma. Those two men were instrumental in a record-braking year for Lancaster, which set a program record for points in a season in 2015.
Last year’s offensive coordinator was Eric Rupp, who is now the head coach. Rupp, who was the junior varsity head coach in 2014, replaces Chris Dickson, who is now at St. Mary’s. He’s been around the program for years and seems primed to take on the top job.
“I’ve been with this current group for three years now,” Rupp said. “The JVs last year ran the same system, so it’s been a pretty seamless transition.”
There are 20 seniors on the Legends’ roster, most of which have plenty of experience with Rupp. One of those guys is two-way lineman Trevor Wilson, who said he’s looking forward to taking the next step with the new coach.
“I really like coach Rupp,” Wilson said. “He’s been my coach since JV. He’s teaching us a lot, more than just football stuff, he’s teaching us how to me men and how to be leaders as adults.”
He takes over a team coming off a big season last year looking for even more this year. A Week 2 win at Jamestown, the defending state champ, opened some eyes a year ago. This season, the veteran Lancaster team won’t sneak up on anyone.
“The goal is to win the section,” Rupp said. “We came close last year, but not close enough. That’s the goal.”
Samborski and the running game will no doubt be a focus but the Legends will be able to move the ball in the air as well. Castillo returns after catching 31 passes for 692 yards and four touchdowns – and running for 89 more yards and another three TDs. He’ll be joined at receiver by another baseball star, junior Max Giordano, who caught 22 passes for 203 yards last year. Among the biggest shoes to fill will those of tight end Alex Damiani, who caught nine TD passes last season as a senior.
Another major graduation loss was record-breaking quarterback Dan Speyer, the program’s all-time leader in career passing yards. But there’ll still be a Speyer to lead the way as senior Noah Speyer takes the reigns. He threw for 60 yards and picked up a rushing touchdown in limited duty last year – and his teammate have faith he can make the leap this year.
“Noah’s been working pretty hard for us all offseason,” Samborski said. “He’s going to be good for us.”
The offensive line will feature 285-pound senior tackle Jacob Luderman and senior center Mason Mastrangelo, a state qualifier in wrestling last year.
Defensively, Lancaster lost six of its top seven tacklers to graduation, returning only junior linebacker Brett Beetow, who finished with 36. Wilson as well as senior Joe Andressen are expected to lead the defense as well.
“Defensively, we’re young but I expect us to be physical and aggressive,” Rupp said.
The Legends were 6-3 overall last year and 3-1 in Class AA South. For the fourth straight season, Lancaster’s season ended at Kenmore West’s Crosby Field with the loss to the always tough Blue Devils. This season, the Legends expect their season to reach the newly-named New Era Field and beyond.
Of course, everyone has that expectation in August. But these Legends seem to have what it takes to reach those goal in 2016.
“I think we’re going to do really well,” Wilson said. “It’s early to tell but I think we’re going to do really well. We have a lot of work to do, of course. We have to keep grinding every day and we’ll see what we’ve got. But we’re going for a championship. That’s always the goal.”
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