Maurice Tillman dove over Albany’s center and took down its quarterback to squelch a late two-point bid and preserve Schenectady’s lead in what would be a 13-12 victory last season.
Big plays like that were a rare thing.
“We’re not settling for 1-8 this year,” Schenectady’s new starting quarterback, senior Desean Fortune, said last week following the team’s season-opening practice. “We’re eyeing the playoffs. That’s the No. 1 goal. Coach has let it be known that it’s been a couple of years.”
Schenectady hasn’t been to the Section II tournament since 2012, after making it six consecutive times in a streak highlighted by the program’s only Super Bowl appearance. A top-four finish in the seven-team Class AA Liberty Division which includes newcomer Troy will get Schenectady there again.
“This group wants it,” Schenectady coach Mark Cerrone said. “This is not going to be a continuation of 2015. We’re optimistic about what we have.”
One thing they possess is experience at a lot of positions. The Patriots couldn’t say that last fall when only eight seniors dotted the roster, and when they failed to win a division game for the first time in a decade with an 0-5 record part of their 1-8 overall slate.
The Patriots won one division game in 2014, and two in 2013 when a Week 7 loss to Columbia in a make-or-break game ended their playoff hopes.
“It was a combination of things,” Cerrone said of Schenectady’s 0-5 division showing in 2015. “Youth. Depth. Knowledge of the game itself. Just being green. We started a lot of juniors last year.”
Tillman and Nasir Mayfield were among the few who consistently excelled and were named Liberty Division first-team all-stars for their play on the defensive and offensive lines, respectively. The pair, along with Fortune, will lead the large senior cast that has some football newcomers mixed in.
“We have a lot of first-time seniors coming out,” Cerrone said. “They’re good kids. They want to play. They know they only have a couple of months to make an impact.”
Fortune said there was an excitement among the team during workouts leading up to Monday’s start to the season.
“This is my third year on the varsity and I’ve never seen a group work so hard,” Fortune said. “Everyone works their tail off every day.”
Cerrone likes what he’s seen so far.
“What we lack in talent we make up for in want-to,” the Patriots fourth-year head coach said. “We’ve got some hungry guys.”
They’re constantly being fed by Cerrone and his staff.
“We’ve got to focus on the little things,” Cerrone said. “We’ll fix the smallest little thing and sometimes the guys will look at us funny, but the objective is to get a little bit better every day. Everyone has to buy in. We need to be better at the end of today than we were yesterday.”
Mayfield said Schenectady is ahead of where it was last year at this time.
“Experience is the key word,” the tackle and defensive end said. “You do the same things over and over and you get better at it.”
Mayfield said there’s another element Schenectady needs in order to reach its desired goal. He can sense it coming.
“Inside of you, you have to be able to give it up for the guy next to you,” he said. “All of us have to have that mentality. We need to come together as a team. Like a band of brothers.”
Schenectady graduate Justin Richards is vying for time on the offensive line at Division I Florida A&M University.
Richards received a full athletic scholarship from the Rattlers after two standout seasons at Hudson Valley Community College. Last season the 6-foot-4, 290-pound tackle helped HVCC average 35 points and 193.5 rushing yards per game.
“He was phenomenal at Hudson Valley,” Cerrone said of the 2013 Daily Gazette All-Area first-team selection. “I saw him live and saw him on film, and it was incredible.”
Richards plans to major in psychology. Florida A&M went 1-7 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and 1-10 overall in 2015.
STREAKS RANKED HIGH
Saratoga Springs is No. 3 behind Great Oak, Calif., and top-ranked Syracuse juggernaut Fayetteville-Manlius on the preseason top-30 girls’ national cross country poll compiled by Bill Meylan of Tully Runners.
Saratoga returns its entire team after placing fourth at the 2015 Nike Cross Nationals, its ninth top-5 performance at the season-ending event. The cast is paced by Kelsey Chmiel, Peyton Engborg, Paris Fenoff, Amelia Mahony, Caroline Starace, Alexandra Delnicki and Ciara Knott, each a member of Meylan’s individual watch list for the upcoming season.
Fayetteville-Manlius won the NXN title for the ninth time in 10 years in 2015 and returns three of its leading scorers. At No. 9, North Rockland is the only other New York team to make Meylan’s top-30 national list.
The group following Fayetteville-Manlius and Saratoga on the preseason girls’ top New York team list includes Guilderland (4), Shenendehowa (7), Colonie (11), Niskayuna (12), Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake (19), Greenwich (25) and Queensbury (36).
No Section II boys’ teams made Meylan’s national top-30 list. His New York boys’ list includes Saratoga (4), Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake (7), Shenendehowa (8), Guilderland (16), Queensbury (20) and Niskayuna (26). Guilderland’s Noah Carey and Noah Tindale made the individual watch list.
Defenseman Devin O’Leary of Foothills Council lacrosse champion Queensbury has made a verbal commitment to Stony Brook University.
O’Leary was named a league first-team all-star this past spring and made the Endicott College Elite 100 Camp all-star team this summer. The 6-foot-5, 210-pound O’Leary will become the second Spartan to compete at the Division I level following 2001 graduate Matt Ellement, who played at the United States Military Academy.
Stony Brook went 12-4 this past season and lost to Vermont in the America East title game. Stony Brook’s 2015 roster included sophomore long stick midfielder Kyle Abdellatif of Ballston Spa and freshman goalkeeper Dan Comber of Bethlehem.
MORE TEAMS, SLIGHTLY FEWER ATHLETES
The number of state public high school athletes playing in New York has fallen slightly this decade, even as there has been a significant increase in the number of scholastic teams, according to a survey.
This past school year, 575,903 New York State Public High School Athletic Association student-athletes participated in a sport (boys 306,973; girls 268,930) based on 776 schools that reported. That total included 15,198 varsity teams and 272,947 varsity participants.
That represents a 1.2 percent drop from the 2011-12, the year of NYSPHSAA’s last official survey, when there was 583,106 participants.
The number of total teams increased by 1,996 within that time frame, going from 31,993 to 33,989, reflecting more than a 6 percent increase in the number of teams across all programs.
Locally, well over 50,000 student-athletes from Section II schools participated in sports during the 2015-16 academic year according to the survey,
The survey took into account varsity, junior varsity, freshman, modified and mixed competition teams, with 97 Section II schools reporting.
Section II’s student-athlete total for 2015-16 was 57,927, consisting of 31,977 boys and 25,950 girls. (Comparative numbers for 2011-12 were not available.)
The most participants were at the varsity level with 14,966 boys (878 teams) and 12,469 girls (807 teams). Varsity outdoor track and field was the sport with most participants (boys 2,119; girls 2,073). For boys, football was No. 2 (1,833), and for girls, soccer was No. 2 (1,446).
WHAT THEY’RE DOING
Former Mekeel Christian Academy basketball scoring leader and Gazette All-Area first-teamer Caleb Stewart has transferred from Saint Leo University to Binghamton University and will be eligible to compete for the Division I Bearcats in the 2017-18 season.
The 6-foot-9 forward must sit a year as required by NCAA rule. He helped lead Saint Leo (Fla.) to 19 wins and an NCAA Division II tournament appearance last season after spending the year before at the University of South Carolina-Aiken, and the year before that at Fork Union Military Academy (Va).
Stewart averaged 15.1 points and 6 rebounds for Saint Leo and was selected to the Sunshine State Conference All-Newcomer Team. He also had 67 assists, 48 blocks, 33 steals and sank 61 3-point baskets.
Stewart’s brother, 6-8 shooting guard Collin, is heading into his senior year at Monmouth University.
Binghamton competes in the America East Conference which includes the University at Albany.
Shenendehowa graduate Teddy VanGalen will quarterback Utica College in a scrimmage against Kean University of New Jersey Friday at 3 p.m. at Shenendehowa’s Steuerwald Stadium.
Utica’s roster also includes Schenectady graduates Tyler DePasquale, a senior offensive lineman, and Felix Rodriguez, a junior running back. Former Schenectady head coach Jim Kramer is Utica’s quarterback coach and offensive coordinator.
VanGalen completed nearly 60 percent of his passes and totaled 2,662 yards and 15 touchdowns as a first-year starter last season when Utica went 3-5 in the Empire 8 Conference and 4-6 overall. Kean in 2015 went 6-3 in the New Jersey Athletic Conference and 8-3 overall.