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FB Preview -- Character counts for new Wildcats coach

September 02, 2009|By MARK KELLER/keller@herald-mail.com

As Randy Longnecker tried holding a conversation in the football office at Williamsport High School, a steady stream of assistant coaches and players entered and exited the room.

It's Picture Day for the Wildcats. Money is being turned in, forms are being signed and jerseys are being distributed to players -- and everybody wants a piece of the head coach's attention.

As the room finally clears out -- mostly -- Longnecker lets out a sigh and shows a bit of a weary smile.

"It's been a busy first week," he says.

After 10 years away from football, Longnecker is ready to return to the sidelines as Williamsport's ninth head coach in the 39-year history of the program.

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Longnecker began his coaching career at Smithsburg, where he played for Carroll Reid and Ray Montini. He coached for seven years in the Waynesboro (Pa.) program, including three years as the varsity head coach. He compiled a 4-26 record from 1997 to 1999, when the Indians played Mid-Penn powers such as Central Dauphin and Harrisburg on a yearly basis.

"Ten years away, things have really changed," Longnecker said. "There's so much more paperwork now, the kids have changed ... these are all the distractions. The fun comes when we get on the field. All this goes away then."

Longnecker started building toward the fun part shortly after he was hired for the position in March. He said he and his coaching staff visited Springfield Middle School to recruit incoming freshmen into the program and they implemented a weight training regimen for those already in the system.

The result was consistent attendance of about 60 players to Williamsport's offseason workouts, which have become much more important with the early beginning of the school year.

"We lacked two-a-days because of the early start, so we needed to be in condition when practice began on Aug. 15. We had to hit the field in shape," Longnecker said. "The upperclassmen bought in to what we were doing and that paid off with the younger kids. That was a real plus."

The question is: Will it pay off in the win column? Williamsport is starving for a winner. The Wildcats haven't had a winning season since 1999 and have never made the postseason.

Wins are important to Longnecker, for sure, but he certainly is not a win-at-all-costs kind of guy, something he attributes to the coaches he played for in high school.

"I played for Reid and Montini and both used a character-based philosophy. That's very important to me and it's what I intend to do here," Longnecker said. "Most times, it's not until about six years after graduation that you see how successful your program is. We want to create young men who become men in society and strengthen them to win in the game of life.

"Parents have approached me and told me they are pleased with the kind of treatment their kids are getting. We give them respect and we expect that in return."

The Williamsport community does seem to be responding. Longnecker said a good crowd turned out for the Wildcats' Blue-White scrimmage two weeks ago, a crowd made up of more than just proud parents and grandparents.

And he said even though the level of play wasn't yet where he hoped it would be, the response was positive and the crowd supportive.

"I live here, I teach here, I'm a servant of this community just like anyone else," Longnecker said.

There will be no bold predictions or guarantees on this or any season from Longnecker. There will be no fire-and-brimstone speeches to the players. And it's not likely there will be rants about officials or opposing teams.

There will be teaching -- of football, of respect, of winning and losing with class. Longnecker said he's sure of those things.

"I can't go wrong doing those things. What I'm asking is to get their best every day," Longnecker said. "If we get beat, there's no shame in that. I just don't want to lose football games.

"We'll respect everybody and fear nobody. The hardest thing is getting them to believe in something they haven't seen yet. They're not sure yet those things will work."

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