EMPORIUM, Pa. — More than anything, Ryan Neyman longs for the old days.
Neyman’s high school playing career coincided with a golden era for Cameron County football. His senior year, 2008, the Red Raiders went 12-2, winning the District 9 Class A title.
“It was some great times,” said Neyman, back then a two-way lineman for coach Tony Defilippi. “You had the town support. We’ve just got to get that back.”
Neyman is tasked with turning around his alma mater, which has won only three games over the last three seasons, going 1-8 in each campaign. Moreover, he’s Cameron County’s third coach in as many years.
“The fans will come; they just don’t want to see kids being demoralized,” said Neyman, who was named to the position in February after three years as an assistant. “They just want to see some heart. That’s what Cameron County is. We’re blue-collar workers, nothing fancy ...”
And, with a male enrollment of 67, the smallest school in District 9 without a football co-op.
“We’ve just got to have the pride to keep going, chugging along,” Neyman said.
A year ago, the program’s future was in question. However, talk of a merger with Elk County Catholic eventually subsided.
This season, the Red Raiders are in better shape participation-wise and return 11 starters.
“We’ve got 27 kids out,” said Neyman, who runs a wastewater treatment plant in Emporium. “There was a numbers concern because of lower enrollment. The school board just wants to make sure we have enough numbers to play the game safely. But going forward, I think Cameron County football’s here to stay for the next few years.”
A lack of team chemistry, Neyman believes, has contributed to the Red Raiders’ struggles on the field. Players have bickered in huddles and failed to bond.
“We had a lot of traditions back when I played,” he said. “When I was an assistant, we kind of strayed away from the traditions and everything like that and forgot who we are in Cameron County. I just want to bring that back and that’s why I applied, and thank God I got the job.
“I just want these guys to actually understand the game and what it actually means — not just the X’s and O’s but the camaraderie and the teamwork and everything that you can grow up and utilize in your adult life.”
He added: “If we can come together and not fight, that can translate into that classroom and you may have more kids come out for a sport. Everybody flocks to a good team, usually, and what you did in the past. We’ve just got to get established.”
Last fall, in their only season under Jody Bailey, the Red Raiders scored 18 points ... total. Their only victory was 6-0 over Sheffield, which went winless. Neyman was the defensive coordinator of a unit that gave up 50 points per game.
“Last year we were all over the place,” Neyman said of the team’s offensive style. “We started with the wing-T last year, then didn’t really have the horses up front in the trenches to be able to pull like you need to. Then we went back into the pistol and spread offense early on, which we’re building off. The terminology is still the same, but the concepts are a little different. We’re pretty much going to be more of a short-passing, West Coast-style offense, and then with our running game, our passes are going to offset that.”
Neyman said seniors Nick Peters, Luiz Patricio and Ebon Jackson will be the “workhorses” of the offense. Jackson has moved from tailback to quarterback, replacing Peters under center.
The 5-foot-6, 125-pound Peters will play receiver or running back.
“Because he’s quick,” Neyman said. “Basically, I was looking at the 40 times, and when you’ve got your quickest guy that’s small in the backfield, you’ve got to be able to utilize him outside.”
Cameron County’s biggest question mark is its offensive line.
“We didn’t have a lot of senior starters,” Neyman said of the 2018 team. “The majority of them were the offensive linemen ... so we’ve got to pick up from where we left off from last year and grow with those guys. But our specialists, we’re really heavy in that area with a lot of experience.
“The No. 1 goal is to hold our blocks. It all starts in the trenches ... who’ll give us a couple seconds in the backfield so we can throw a pass. If we can get a couple seconds back there, I think our specialists can run with anybody.”
They have a chance to change the program’s path.
“They have to come together and have that team camaraderie,” Neyman said. “By doing that, I just tell them they’ve got to keep their heads up, they’ve got to have heart. A lot of times last year, you could see it was just drained out of them. The losses and everything like that just sucked the wind out of them. They just have to buck up and fight for those 48 minutes.
“I believe with the athletes we have, as long as they stay together and not fight, they’re unstoppable. I really, truly believe that. The motto is: ‘We rise as one.’ And try to change the program back to what it was.”
Neyman’s assistant coaches are Ben Newton (offensive coordinator), Keith Baughman (defensive coordinator), Dustin Earle and Cameron Horning.
THE RETURNING starters:
Nick Peters, senior, 5-6, 125, wide receiver/linebacker
Wendell O’Brien, senior, 5-11, 160, wide receiver/cornerback
Bryce Ellis, senior, 6-1, 248, offensive line/defensive end
Luiz Patricio, senior, 5-11, 172, running back/linebacker
Nate Palumbo, junior, 6-5, 240, end both ways
Wes Walters, junior, 6-0, 280, line both ways
Gannon Horning, junior, 6-0, 160, wide receiver/linebacker
Ebon Jackson, senior, 5-9, 150, quarterback/cornerback
Dylan Baney, sophomore, 5-7, 150, wide receiver/cornerback
Taylor Geitner, sophomore, 5-11, 220, center/linebacker
Derek Duman, sophomore, 6-0, 185, running back/linebacker
THE PLAYERS, by position:
: Jackson, Peters, Connor Nolan (jr., 6-2, 190)
: Patricio, O’Brien, Duman, Ian Sobrino (jr., 5-4, 125), Zach Abriatis (so., 5-11, 175), Dylan Reider (so., 6-0, 200), Jameson Britton (fr., 6-0, 165), Eyan Smith (fr., 5-6, 145)
: Peters, O’Brien, Horning, Baney, Nathon Reed (jr., 5-10, 165), Devin Fowler (so., 5-9, 130), Devin Streich (fr., 5-8, 145)
: Palumbo, Nolan
: Walters, Ryan Chilcote (sr., 5-6, 218), Tim Hassleman (sr., 5-10, 280), Eden Condon (so., 5-8, 180), Logan Slagel (so., 5-6, 140)
: Ellis, Caleb Reider (sr., 6-2, 240), Dein Snyder (fr., 6-0, 170)
: Geitner, Chase Streich (so., 5-11, 180)
: Ellis, Palumbo, C. Reider, Nolan, Snyder
: Walters, Chilcote, Hassleman, Condon, Slagel
: Peters, Patricio, Horning, Geitner, Duman, Reed, Abriatis, C. Streich, D. Reider, Britton, Smith
: O’Brien, Jackson, Sobrino, D. Streich
: Baney, Fowler
30 — at Curwensville, 7 p.m.
6 — Otto-Eldred, 7 p.m. 13 — at Keystone, 7 p.m. 21 — at Sheffield, 1:30 p.m. 27 — Elk County Catholic, 7 p.m.
4 — at Smethport, 7 p.m. 11 — at Union/A-C Valley, 7 p.m. 18 — Port Allegany, 7 p.m. 25 — Coudersport, 7 p.m.