Shenendehowa opened its 2008 season with a thud at Schenectady, and ended in similar fashion, with a Section II Class AA quarterfinal loss to Niskayuna, and a crossover defeat against Ballston Spa.
There was also that loss to rival Saratoga Springs, which cost the Plainsmen the Empire Division championship.
“I think they realize 5-4 at Shenendehowa is not a great season,” veteran coach Brent Steuerwald said. “At the end of the season I told them, ‘We’ve got to put a little more into it,’ and they responded. In the offseason there was extremely high effort and preparation. All that effort should be rewarded.”
Shenendehowa has bounce back on its collective mind, and according to Section II’s all-time winningest coach with 295 victories, he has the players to do it. The group includes Suhayb Banks, the Empire Division all-purpose player of the year, who reached the end zone 23 times in his junior campaign.
“Most of the juniors we had on the field for our  opener were literally JV players, and they played like JVs,” Steuerwald said in reference to his team’s 36-7 loss at Schenectady, the Liberty Division champ. “I don’t think that will happen this year.”
Shenendehowa only had 14 seniors a year ago, and six started on a full-time basis, including star linebacker Anthony Curto and linemen Steven Brown, Peter White and Adam Geleta.
“Our boys who were juniors last year and are seniors now have had a great deal of experience, and that’s an advantage going into this year,” Steuerwald said. “They also experienced some of the travails from last year that they do not want to repeat.”
“We’re looking to take it to teams this year,” said Andrew Kalish, who returns to quarterback the 10-time Section II champions; Austin Lane and Tyler Prendergast will anchor the lines. “We don’t want to be content with just a good season.”
Shenendehowa struggled defensively last year, surrendering an un-Plainsmen-like 30 points or more six times. Winless Albany was among the teams that burned the Plainsmen for big points.
“I refuse to give up 30 points a game,” Steuerwald said. “We’re not going to go through that again.”
To make sure of that, Steuerwald said three of his top players ” Banks, Bronson Greene and Mike Daly” will play full-time in the defensive secondary while sharing time on offense with others.
“Our offense is going to score points,” said Lane, a 6-foot-5, 290-pound senior who’ll start both ways. “As far as defense, we’re going to try to be a ton better this year.”
for a Week 7 matchup that could again decide the Empire Division title, yet Blue Streaks coach Terry Jones said getting to that point will be no easy task for either team.
“With the parity in Class AA, you’re looking at a tough matchup every week. Both division are going to be strong,” he said. “You’ve got to look at the team you’re playing. The team that’s in front of you. It’s going to be a challenge every week.”
Saratoga will feature 25 varsity veterans, including four three-year lettermen led by running back/defensive end Tony Deloatch, the 2008 Empire defensive player of the year.
Ballston Spa will be led by three-year starting quarterback Mark Seager, the 2008 Empire offensive player of the year, who scored four of his 16 touchdowns against Shenendehowa in a 32-21 season-ending win. Lineman Nick Gallo is also back for a third varsity season.
“We’ve got to finish games,” said Seager, who noted that the Scotties dropped three games by a total of 12 points in 2008. “We lost some tight ones. We’ve got to go four quarters.”
Two-way standouts Jack Reilly and Zach Zaloga will lead what is expected to be a bounce-back season at Christian Brothers Academy.
“I’m optmistic that we’ll play well,” said CBA coach Matt Gormley, whose team registered its only 2008 win against Albany. “We return 18 starters and we had a good JV team that came on in the second half of the season.”
There’s been a lot of talk in the Schenectady camp about going the distance after last year’s run to the Class AA final and team-record eight victories. LaSalle beat Schenectady for its second straight Class AA title, and third in four years.
“I think we can be better than last year,” said Schenectady lineman Nick Barone. “We’ve got a lot of fast kids, good size and smart coaches. We want to get to the Super Bowl and win it.”
Tim Cox will play a huge role as Schenectady’s new starting quarterback, as will Herman Seise, who takes over for star tailback Marc Thompson.
“Tim played defense last year. He’s been in big games. Now it’s his turn to step under center,” said first-year Patriots coach Jim Kramer. “He wants to be a leader. He embraces that, and I believe he’ll do just fine. He put together a solid summer.”
LaSalle will be without an established tailback for the first time in a decade, with Marquis Terrell the Cadets’ standout the past three years. The Cadets do have their quarterback returning in Mike Murray, along with lineman Nolan Flike, fullback Tyler Washington and wide out Lou DiNovo, who combined for 18 touchdowns in 2008.
“We’ll keep banging away and try to get better each week,” said LaSalle coach Al Rapp, who has senior Cory Rifenberick and 10th-grader Kevin Koberger as his top tailback candidates.
Bethlehem has one of the Liberty’s top two-way players in running back/cornerback Casiem Maxwell, a three-year starter. Bethlehem played in the Empire last year and, despite heavy losses and a new coach in Rick Leach, is looking for a second straight playoff bid.
“We have good numbers and a lot of enthusiasm,” said Leach. “We don’t have a lot of starters back, but the kids we have are very talented.”
Shaker will take the field without star running back Jeremy Pryor, a first team Liberty all-star who was denied a fifth year by the Section II eligibility committee.
Not looking ahead helped Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake go far the last three seasons. The Spartans, with just two losses inside Section II during that span, aren’t about to alter their approach.
“We play in a real competitive league. You can’t look down the road,” said BH-BL coach Matt Shell. “You’ve got to keep working and take care of Week 1. Then Week 2. If you do, it can snowball for you.”
Shell saw that happen the past three years, when his Spartans followed up division championships with Class A title-game berths each time. They won their second sectional banner last fall as a springboard to the state final before losing to Sweet Home and finishing at 12-1.
The school’s junior varsity also won a Section II championship in 2008 and went undefeated.
“It’s a new year and a new team,” said Shell. “Going into the year, you never know how they’re going to react.”
Shell, however, has a pretty good idea.
“We’ve got a humble group, but they’re a real competitive group,” he said. “They have an edge to them.”
Burnt Hills brings back its superb defensive end combination in 6-foot-5 seniors Jacob Myers and Zach Morton, running backs Brandon Beatty, Tyler Paluba and Jahi Owens, wide out Keatin Flint and John Acors to anchor the offensive line. Phil Neumann takes over at quarterback for record-setting Paul Layton, the 2008 state coaches association Class A player of the year who put together a 30-4 career record.
“He had a lot of quality minutes last year, which is real important,” Shell said of Neumann, a senior. “He’s played the position. He feels comfortable with our offense.”
Gloversville may offer the greatest challenge to Burnt Hills’ Northwest Division supremacy, showing 20 seniors, including all-star quarterback Chad McCloskey and its leading scorer from 2008 in running back Nick DiPasquale.
Troy played Burnt Hills closer than any area team last season in a 35-20 Section II semifinal loss.
“We had our chances and didn’t capitalize on some turnovers,” said Troy coach Jack Burger. “We’d love to meet them again in Week 10. We’d love to play anyone in Week 10.”
Troy, which won six Section II titles under Burger from 1993-2000, is eyeing the Southeast Division top spot and then some with a mix of hungry seniors and a cast of newcomers that lost to Burnt Hills by one point in the junior varsity Super Bowl. That new group is led by quarterback Brian Marsh. Trevor Ryan, a three-year starter at center, has the most varsity experience.
“Most of the kids in our senior class last year were role players, and they see this year as their chance to make their mark,” said Burger.
Niskayuna, a Class AA semifinalist in 2008, has joined the Southeast Division and could make a significant impact despite the loss of three-year starting quarterback Dan Peters. Ryan Alden will play a key role with his move from wide receiver to quarterback, as will two-way lineman Ken McKenna, linebacker John Verra and running back Nick Shuler.
“One of the biggest challenges in Class AA was we were always outsized,” said Niskayuna coach John Furey. “We’ll match up a little better.”
Niskayuna opens up at Glens Falls before hosting Burnt Hills in a meeting of old Suburban Council rivals.
“The way we see it, we’re not moving down [in class], we’re moving over,” said Furey. “There’s some tough teams in the A’s. We’re working hard to be the best we can be, and the cards will fall where they fall.”
Bishop Maginn lost 15 seniors from its 9-1 Southeast champion and Class AA runner-up team, yet returns one of the area’s best running backs in Tymear Mallory, a three-year starter.
“They’ve got their work cut out for them, but they have the athletes to do it,” said Furey.
Furey believes Averill Park could make some noise in the Southeast. The Warriors edged out Scotia-Glenville and Mohonasen for the fourth playoff spot last year.
“I think people are taking a look at our guys coming back and our 6-3 JV team that played Burnt Hills and Troy tough,” said first-year AP coach Zach Gobel. “I’m cautiously optimistic.”
The same goes for Scotia-Glenville coach John Turgeon, who has Cody Rumney back at quarterback, a trio of promising runners in Paul Lasher, Adam Tabbert and Joe Angley, and Matt Burchhardt to anchor to lines.
“There’s no easy games out there, but I like our chances this year better than last year,” said Turgeon, who likes the physical play his team displayed in the preseason. “Our goal is to win one more game than last year, when we won one. If we get that, then we’ll go for three. If we get that, we’ll go for another.”