Southern Columbia Honoring Historic Backs
2,000+ yard rushers to be recognized on Alumni Night
By: Dave Fegley (@DFegs9)
Since the change of the millennium, much has changed offensively in the historic game of football. Many of the teams at the professional, collegiate, and high school levels have decided to change their play calling on the gridiron. The ground and pound philosophy used to be a staple in every offensive game plan, which former Ohio State coach Woody Hayes referred to as “three yards and a cloud of dust.” Now, the majority of teams are content to line up in the shot gun formation and sling it all over the field. Many programs feel this gives them the best chance to win, but there is an exception to every rule. “Tradition is the key at Southern. I really think it starts with the youth programs. The varsity staff has been so successful and now the youth programs run the offensive system. By the time these kids reach the varsity level they seem to have most of the basics down,” said former all-state running back Jerry Marks. “I followed Jay Drumheller, then Ricco Rosini came through, and most recently Henry Hynoski. There has been a line of great backs to play here, and the bottom line is the guys that come through want to keep the tradition going,” he said.
Southern Columbia, a Pennsylvania football powerhouse, has remained constant in its game plan approach each week: run the football. Sure, there have been a select group of notable quarterbacks to come through the system, but Jim Roth’s Wing-T scheme has been the most lethal offense since its installment in the late 1980’s. “We have had some outstanding quarterbacks come through the system which is a way to keep defenses honest. Our offense still obviously involves running the football more often, but it’s important to add in the pass to give us some balance,” said Tiger head coach Jim Roth who coached the Tigers to state titles in 1994 and a state record of five in a row from 2002-2006. During this time, the Tigers have won a state record of six State Championships, 13 Eastern Championships, and 22 District IV Championships. All of these titles have come with the main priority being to beat teams on the ground. “We’ve just always had good success running the football since some of the other coaches and myself took over. Back in the early 80’s it was the norm. You didn’t see many teams in passing formations as often as today. At the start, we just ran a real basic Power I-Formation offense for the first four years when Jerry Marks was the tailback. Then once he graduated was when we made the change to the Wing-T because we didn’t have a player like Jerry. We felt getting more people involved was the way to go, and it was the offense that we felt was the most effective way of doing that,” said Roth who is on pace to break the Pennsylvania record for coaching victories in the future.
Many schools are ecstatic to have a 1,000 yard rusher graduate from their school which is an impressive accomplishment. Since 1983, Southern Columbia has had 20 backs graduate with over 2,000 career rushing yards and will have more names etched in their record book as time passes. “Actually running our offense works as an advantage for us. Most teams now see offenses that tend to pass more. Then they get to us and have to change their whole defensive philosophy,” stated Roth. Even more impressive is the fact that every single one of these workhorses, that oppositions focused their game plans around weekly, averaged more than 5.5 yards per carry over the course of their careers. To put this into perspective, last year’s top two running backs in terms of yards per carry in the NFL were the Baltimore Ravens Justin Forsett who averaged 5.4 yards per carry and the Miami Dolphins Lamar Miller at 5.1 yards per attempt. Now, understandably these Southern Columbia backs didn’t go up against the likes of J.J. Watt, Ndamukong Suh, Luke Kuechly, and Gerald McCoy on a weekly basis, but the majority of these SoCo backs have had most of their success against quality high school defenses.
After all, the majority of these running backs and fullbacks have played in state championships and faced quality defenses along the way in both the district and state playoffs. “We always knew that we had to raise our level of play in bigger games. Obviously our teams had extremely high expectations for our seasons and what we wanted to achieve,” former running back Brandon Traugh said. He is currently on the other end of the spectrum. As a junior high coach at SCA, he can now help the younger players develop for the future. What has made the Tigers particularly special over the span of the last thirty years is that the players are always ready to step up to whatever challenges the opposing teams present. Every team seems to mark Southern on their calendars as the game to gauge where they stand. However, the Tiger teams always find ways to hurdle whatever obstacles are in their way. Part of this comes from the amount of extra time that the coaching staff puts in on a weekly basis outside of the after school practices and film study. “In order to be the best, you have to beat the best. This was our mentality going into every game, but especially in playoff games. We had the mindset of doing whatever it took to help the team win,” said Traugh who is also now Jim Roth’s son-in-law.
The three most well-known on the list are former starting New York Giants fullback Henry Hynoski, Bucknell Bison recruit Ricco Rosini, and Bloomsburg University great Jerry Marks. The trio ran for an astounding 20,653 yards, or nearly twelve miles, over the course of their Pennsylvania High School Hall of Fame worthy careers. They also combined to score an amazing 290 rushing touchdowns. “I believe in football that everything starts up front with the offensive line and blocking backs. We had tremendous grit and determination to make a statement and set that standard each and every week,” Hynoski said. The offensive line at Southern Columbia has produced more all-state selections than any other position. Without the consistency of the offensive line’s play year in and year out, many of these Tiger backs wouldn’t have been able to pick up yardage at such a staggering rate. “I was very fortunate to have not only good players and teammates in those positions, but also great friends. We worked together each and every week to put up big numbers in the ground game to ultimately lead our team to great success,” said Hynoski who has always had an appreciation for the offensive linemen that helped pave the way.
When Marks finished his senior season in 1987, his 7,075 rushing yards were the most in state history. “My mentality was always the same as what it was in wrestling. I was scared that somebody was going to catch me physically. I wanted to make sure that I trained harder than anybody else. At Southern Columbia, as a running back, you need to be in shape. When you get into those physical games in the fourth quarter where you are counted upon, it’s all about the work that you put in up to that moment, said Marks. Over three decades later, Marks is still 12th all-time in rushing yards. Rosini, who averaged 10.1 yards per carry, is 19th all-time in PA history. The 1998 graduate finished with 6,413 yards which is less than 200 yards behind what current Buffalo Bills starting running back LeSean McCoy finished with in his high school playing days at Bishop McDevitt. Rosini is also Southern Columbia Area’s all-time leading tackler with 320 of them while playing linebacker.
The most decorated runner in Pennsylvania high school football history is Hynoski. The bruising fullback, who was a member of the Pennsylvania Big 33 team after graduating in 2007, won four rings in four years and would most likely have the state record for career rushing yards if given the opportunity. He is the Tigers all-time leading rusher with 7,165 yards and 112 TDs on the ground. The majority of his success came in the first half of games because most of the second halves were spent on the sideline with his team well out in front on the scoreboard. “The fact that our starters were out for most if not all of the games by halftime gave our younger backups the opportunities to play against the opposing team’s starters. I feel this was instrumental in building for the future of our program,” Hynoski stated. This culture that Jim Roth’s staff built allowed for the reserves to get invaluable experience, and it also motivated them to want to be successful in the following years. Basically, the junior varsity players at Southern Columbia over the years have been able to get a game and a half worth of reps each week which helps them maintain their focus and hunger. “When it was time for these younger guys to become starters in the coming years, they were prepared. They were ready from game one to hit the ground running and pick up where we left off in prior seasons,” said Hynoski. He is currently 10th on the state’s all-time list and 62 yards ahead of Mount Carmel Area’s top career runner Jonathan Veach.
Jay Drumheller, who is the oldest Tiger on the list and a 1984 grad, comes in as the Tigers 4th all-time rushing leader with 4,111 yards. Former fullback Shaun Gaul, who played from 1996 to 1999, rounds out the top five by finishing with 3,596. Southern has had two others crack the 3,000 yard mark. Butch Romanoski was a catalyst on offense for the Tigers first championship team around the time when high school football really took the community by storm. “It was special. You play with your close friends and have the whole community at the games. Playing at Southern gives you the feeling you’re in an elite program, and this was before we were established as a powerhouse program. I looked at Friday nights as an opportunity to prove how good we were and show how hard work pays off,” said Romanoski. The other member of the 3,000 yard club, Adam Feudale, is the most recent member to make this list. “Having the same coaches on the staff for such a long time is very important. They have been using the same system and know it very well. The staff knows how to find ways to put players in the right positions to succeed which helps the players prepare. You know what you are expected to do going into each season,” Feudale said.
The remaining members of the list that have cracked the 2,000 yard barrier have all done so since the 1992 season. This club features Steve Roth, Scott Bloom, Dave Michaels, Brandon Traugh, Jake Morton, Nate Roadarmel, Tyler Levan, Mike Zimmerman, Joe Murphy, Nate Schicchitano, Mark Yurkiewicz, Tyrell Thomas and Kyle Connaghan. “It’s a priority that you put in the extra time during the offseason to try and out-do the competition. Nowadays, all the teams are putting in extra work which makes it that much more important,” said Jim Roth. Two other players should make the list over the course of the next two seasons barring any injury setbacks. Senior Blake Marks, the son of Jerry, is currently sitting at 1,736 yards on 217 attempts and has totaled 29 rushing scores. If not for missing half of last season, he would have most likely reached the milestone before his senior year even began. If Blake is able to reach this feat, it would make Jerry and him the only father-son combo on the list. Junior halfback Hunter Thomas has carried 73 times for 937 yards and 12 TDs thus far. Adding more yardage this season, and then being the lone returning running back next year, should get him over the mark.
The Tigers currently have a dominant group of junior high and youth players, so this list has the potential to certainly grow with time. “One of the keys to the junior high program is the large number of players coming out every year wanting to play for and continue the Southern tradition. We have a large number of skill kids at all positions and a strong group of linemen that take pride in making holes with their blocking,” Nate Roadarmel said. He, like Traugh, is on the junior high staff at Southern Columbia which provides the athletes with valuable insight from former players’ perspectives that had success on the gridiron. There are also a lot of other former players that attend games, show up at practices, and stay in contact other ways with the existing team members and coaches. “Between the current varsity players, the junior high kids, and the midget programs in Ralpho and Catawissa, I don’t see the tradition slowing down anytime soon,” said Roadarmel who was in the backfield on Southern’s first state title team in 1994.
There also aren’t too many towns that love their high school football as much as the people from Elysburg, Catawissa, and Numidia. “Community comes right after family. During my time at SCA, these two terms were nearly one in the same. Knowing that each Friday night, regardless of the outcome, you are embraced, supported, and celebrated by your school community is a special feeling that Tiger football players have the unique privilege of experiencing,” Scott Bloom said. Time will tell as to how much more success is in the program’s future. The past is the past, and the present is the present. The future will be built around how much time, effort, dedication, and motivation the young cats are willing to put out on the line. One thing is for certain. If the next thirty years are anything like the last thirty years, the Southern Columbia community can expect an affluence of enjoyment and a trophy case that is eager to expand.
Below is the full list including yards, attempts, and touchdowns:
1.) Henry Hynoski (2007 grad): 7,165 yards on 754 attempts and 112 TDs
2.) Jerry Marks (1988 grad): 7,075 yards on 1,071 attempts and 93 TDs
3.) Ricco Rosini (1998 grad): 6,413 yards on 637 attempts and 85 TDs
4.) Jay Drumheller (1984 grad): 4,111 yards on 669 attempts and 42 TDs
5.) Shaun Gaul (2000 grad): 3,596 yards on 635 attempts and 35 TDs
6.) Butch Romanoski (1995 grad): 3,238 yards on 425 attempts and 48 TDs
7.) Adam Feudale (2014 grad): 3,027 yards on 370 attempts and 48 TDs
8.) Steve Roth (2009 grad): 2,879 yards on 405 attempts and 41 TDs
9.) Scott Bloom (1998 grad): 2,650 yards on 352 attempts and 37 TDs
10.) Dave Michaels (1993 grad): 2,645 yards on 410 attempts and 31 TDs
11.) Brandon Traugh (2004 grad): 2,630 yards on 353 attempts and 50 TDs
12.) Jake Morton (2011 grad): 2,620 yards on 389 attempts and 39 TDs
13.) Nate Roadarmel (1995 grad): 2,487 yards on 322 attempts and 38 TDs
14.) Tyler Levan (2012 grad): 2,389 yards on 276 attempts and 38 TDs
15.) Mike Zimmerman (1994 grad): 2,303 yards on 275 attempts and 28 TDs
16.) Joe Murphy (1997 grad): 2,300 yards on 301 attempts and 34 TDs
17.) Nate Schicchitano (2002 grad): 2,242 yards on 252 attempts and 34 TDs
18.) Mark Yurkiewicz (1999 grad): 2,181 yards on 317 attempts and 28 TDs
19.) Tyrell Thomas (2012 grad): 2,067 yards on 292 attempts and 28 TDs
20.) Kyle Connaghan (2006 grad): 2,010 yards on 211 attempts and 28 TDs
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