WINCHESTER -- Scott Yoder has spent the last eight months tirelessly preparing for his first season as the head football coach at Shenandoah University.
First came the task of appointing a full-time staff, then came recruiting followed by spring practices and more recruiting, all in preparation to help the Hornets rebound from a 1-9 season a year ago. As the Hornets march full speed into fall practice with the September 7 season-opener against Gallaudet just around the corner, perhaps no one within Shenandoah's football program is more excited to get the new season under way than Yoder.
"This is what we've been working for since January 3, at least from my end," said Yoder, who spent the last 12 years as an assistant coach at Hobart College (N.Y.), his alma mater. "For it to finally be here, it really feels like it's Christmas."
Yoder's enthusiasm early in fall camp has been contagious, and several players noted that Yoder's energy level was something that made the coach stand out during the initial hiring process.
The players have fed off that youthful energy so far this fall, and senior safety Byron Mitchell said it has helped quicken the learning process for the Hornets as Yoder introduces new schemes this season.
Shenandoah will feature new looks on both offense and defense, and Yoder said the staff is facing the difficult challenge of finding the proper roles for players under the new scheme, although he is confident that any position changes that are made will largely benefit the Hornets now and into the future.
"I think that there always needs to be a high level of teaching, and that's what's going on right now. And it's a little bit more now than hopefully it will be two, three, four years down the road because even our upperclassmen are learning the basics of what we want to do offensively and defensively," Yoder said.
Defense appears to be the strength of the Hornets this season, as Shenandoah returns plenty of experience from a team that ranked near the top of the Old Dominion Athletic Conference in total defense last season.
This year the Hornets will use a 4-4 base defense under Yoder, who is serving as his own defensive coordinator.
"I think [the 4-4 is] going to come in handy," Mitchell said. "Coach Yoder is bringing it in from his last college in Hobart [N.Y.] where it proved to be successful for him, so I understand why he brought it in. For me it's definitely different being the only safety back there ... so that's definitely different being in the middle of the field and having three defensive backs, but it's going to be a great run-stopper."
The Hornets will be particularly stout along the defensive line, a position that Yoder said is "our most-talented and deepest position." Senior Evan Griffin (22 tackles, six sacks in 2012) and his younger brother Ian (37 tackles) return at the two defensive end positions alongside senior defensive tackle Preston Funk (35 tackles).
Shenandoah also features an athletic secondary headlined by Mitchell (61 tackles, three interceptions) and senior cornerback Sean Blackman, both of whom earned all-conference honors last season.
The Hornets will be inexperienced at the linebacker position, but Yoder said the strength and experience of the defensive line should help the linebackers, particularly early in the season as they get more comfortable on the field.
On offense Shenandoah will be transitioning to the spread under new offensive coordinator Stan Hodgin, a scheme that Yoder hopes will help balance the Hornets' lack of size.
"We're a little short on big, skilled guys -- tight ends, fullbacks, even lineman -- so right now I don't think that we can pack it in, line them up and just knock people off the ball consistently," Yoder said. "So we're going to spread it and we're going to use tempo to help us and just try to get the ball in playmakers' hands, and good things will happen."
Shenandoah struggled to find consistency at the quarterback position last season, and the Hornets will have some fresh faces competing for the starting job this fall. Yoder said the battle for the position is still an "open race," although Mount Union transfer Drew Ferguson and former Millbrook standout Justin Neff are the early favorites.
"Those two guys come in and give us something that we haven't had in the past," Yoder said. "They're new, they're learning the system and have to prove themselves, but they jump right up into that competition level."
Shenandoah features a large group of young receivers, led by junior David Bell (19 catches, 385 yards, one touchdown), but Yoder said many of them have yet to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.
The Hornets have a much clearer picture at running back, where sophomore Andrew Smith returns after rushing for 573 yards and nine touchdowns while splitting carries with the now departed Carl Joseph last season.
Freshman Jordan Umstead, a former Central standout, was the frontrunner to handle the punting and kicking duties for the Hornets early in fall practice.
Shenandoah, which entered fall camp with 104 players (64 returnees, 40 newcomers), will look to have better success in its second season in the ODAC. The Hornets went winless in seven conference games in its ODAC debut last year, but Mitchell and Bell said the team is more comfortable with its ODAC opponents heading into this season.
Shenandoah was picked to finish seventh out of eight teams in the ODAC preseason poll, but that hasn't dampened the Hornets' optimism for 2013.
"Winning is always the goal, but in our minds we want to win the ODAC championship. What team doesn't?" Bell said. "You have to have goals to set, and our goal is to win games and be the best team in the ODAC."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or email@example.com