Not long after Niskayuna’s football season ended, Nikhon Schuler was right back in the weight room and working on his stick skills, preparing to play lacrosse for the Silver Warriors.
“We should have a pretty solid team. We did lose some key players, but if we keep working hard, I think we can have a big year. Maybe even get to the state championship,” said the 17-year-old senior, who will play collegiate lacrosse at national power Johns Hopkins. “I want my last high school season to be a memorable one.”
Schuler already has a campaign that he’ll be able to look back on for years to come with fond thoughts.
As a slot receiver this fall, he led all of Section II with 38 receptions, scored eight touchdowns and set a Niskayuna record for yards in a game. His rewards were selection to the Class AA Liberty Division all-star first team, and an invite to the Section II Senior All-Star Game, where he collected two more catches in the North’s win over the South.
“He put up some great numbers for us,” said Niskayuna football coach John Furey. “In the beginning of the year I didn’t allow him to run certain patterns, but as the season went on and he matured and improved, the variety of his routes increased, and he became more of a threat.
“It was business to him, and he approached it that way.”
Schuler’s production, which included 720 yards, is ultra impressive considering he had never played a receiving position before this year.
“I had always played running back,” the athletic and academic standout said of his breakout season. “Right towards the end of the school year coach talked to me about moving positions, and I was a little skeptical. I never played there before, but I was kind of excited, too. I knew I had the ability to do it, and I had to make it happen.”
Schuler and Niskayuna quarterback Kyle Bayly worked diligently in the offseason, creating a bond that over the fall months led to big gains and points as the Silver Warriors advanced to the sectional semifinals.
“We spent a lot of time working on it, and as time went on, I got comfortable. It all kind of clicked,” said Schuler, who also served as Niskayuna’s punter. “Everyone on the team had a tremendous drive this year. We took it to a whole new level as far as work.”
Schuler reached a new level for Niskayuna receivers when he hauled in eight passes for a school-record 256 yards in a 42-17 win over Ballston Spa. He topped the 241 yards accumulated by Niskayuna’s Dan Halayko in a 2005 game against Shaker with the fourth-highest single-game output in Section II history.
“That was my best game, but it wasn’t all me,” said Schuler, who served as a captain this season with Bayly, Mike Chambers, Alex Melius and James Roche. “We had great line blocking, and Kyle did a tremendous job of getting guys the ball which allowed us to make plays. It was a team effort.”
Schuler caught three touchdown passes in that triumph, two of them covering 88 and 79 yards, and he had another the following week covering 66 yards when Niskayuna upset Saratoga Springs in the sectional quarterfinals, 34-27.
“We played him in the slot, and he got a lot of one-on-one with defensive backs,” said Furey. “With his speed, hand strength and size, he had an advantage and caused a lot of problems for other teams.”
Schuler caught seven passes and totaled 163 yards with a touchdown in a 35-28 overtime loss to Troy the week before his monster outing against Ballston Spa. That touchdown play covered 54 yards, and came after a tipped pass that Schuler snatched out of the air.
“He has a great sense after getting the ball and heading to the goal line,” Furey added. “Guys try to tackle him, and they just fall off him.”
“When you play running back, things get clogged up,” said the soft-spoken 6-foot-1, 205-pound Schuler. “I was able to get the ball in the open field, and I was able to do some things.”
Though Furey went with a one platoon system this year, Schuler got a chance to show his linebacking skills in the Ballston Spa victory when a teammate went down with an injury. Schuler’s efforts helped Niskayuna post a second-half shutout against the Empire Division champions.
“In the Ballston Spa game he made a huge difference on defense. He did a great job,” said Furey, who saw Schuler voted to the Liberty League’s all-star second team defense as a junior. “There was one pitch play where he slid off a blocker, got to the quarterback and then slid off him and made a hit on the running back. He moves well.”
Schuler’s considerable contributions helped Niskayuna (5-4) put together a winning record for the third year in a row, something the Silver Warriors had not done since the 1969-71 seasons. Niskayuna also reached the sectional semifinal round for the third year in a row, a first for the program, before a second loss to Troy.
“In Class AA and Class A over the last three years, only three teams have made it to the semifinals each time. Troy, Burnt Hills and us,” said Furey. “That’s impressive. Those are his teams.”
As a defenseman on Niskayuna’s lacrosse team, Schuler played a significant role last spring as the Silver Warriors captured their sixth consecutive Section II championship and advanced to the state Class B semifinals before a one-goal setback against Garden City.
“We were so close to getting to the championship game,” said Schuler. “This will be my fourth year coming up, and I can’t think of a better way for it to end. With us there.”
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Categories: High School Sports