In the 2019 season, Amsterdam’s starting offensive line group of Christian Robinson, Alex Simon, Alejandro Christopher, Dainon Aviles and James Shatas made life miserable for a number of opposing defenses.
The quintet paved the way for a number of huge performances from running back Peyton Ausfeld, including a single-game school record of 322 rushing yards in a win over Albany, despite all five being underclassmen at the time.
With all five back this spring, what will an extra year-plus of seasoning mean for Amsterdam’s team in the trenches?
“It’s going to show how strong we’ve gotten as a team,” Robinson said recently, “and as a line.”
Amsterdam was originally supposed to open its season last Friday at home against Albany, but that game was postponed when a member of the program displayed symptoms of COVID-19. The team paused all in-person activity until Monday, when the program passed COVID-19 safety protocols and resumed practice.
The status of Friday’s game at Troy fell into doubt Thursday afternoon, when Montgomery County’s rolling 7-day average of positive coronavirus tests ticked above 4.0%. During the recently completed winter season, Montgomery County teams were not permitted to compete outside the county when the rolling 7-day average passed that threshold.
However, both Amsterdam athletic director Steve Nolan and Montgomery County Executive Matthew Ossenfort spoke Thursday afternoon following a meeting that included Amsterdam coach John Homich and superintendent Richard Ruberti, and confirmed that Friday night’s game would be played and that the county would be taking more of a “day-by-day” approach to its guidance for sports during both the “Fall II” and spring seasons.
“Certainly, my opinion is I think the kids need to play,” Ossenfort said. “Right now, we feel that’s the best thing to do. We’re going to take it day-by-day, week-by-week, work together as a team to make these decisions, just like these kids on the field. Just take it as a goes. But, one day before a game, on the heels of a canceled game, to rip that away from the kids at this point is just not something I felt was the right thing to do. . . . I have no problems with the kids playing, and I think they need to play.”
“We’re going to, as a county, take it day-by-day,” Nolan said. “Hopefully, the trend [of positive cases] starts going back down, but [Ossenfort] supports us in our desire, since the kids have worked hard, to let them play.”
Montgomery County’s 7-day rolling average was at 4.3% on Thursday.
Elsewhere in Montgomery County, Fonda-Fultonville is scheduled to open its season Saturday at home against Corinth, while Canajoharie/Fort Plain’s opener against Chatham has already been called off due to COVID-19 quarantine issues within the Canajoharie/Fort Plain program.
As Amsterdam finally open its season, the line is still expected to lead the way.
While Christopher, Aviles and Shatas are all seniors, it’s the two juniors on the right side of the line — Robinson at tackle, Simon at guard — who have emerged as anchors up front.
The duo both became starters as freshmen and have been fixtures in the lineup ever since. During the 2019 season, the sight of Robinson and Simon pulling around the line as lead blockers struck fear into opposing defenders and provided many of the biggest runs in Ausfeld’s 1,372-yard season.
With the team forced apart last year due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, Simon and Robinson were also two of the most active Rams at posting workout videos — either heaving impressive amounts of weight, or more esoteric workouts like overhead tire flips for Simon or Robinson pushing a pickup truck around a driveway in lieu of a blocking sled — that new head coach Homich spotlighted on social media.
“They’re starting to turn into those natural leaders,” Homich said. “The thing we’ve been talking about, to everybody, is that leaders lead. We’re looking for that everywhere.”
Since the team came back together March 7 when practice opened for the Fall II season — which features “high” risk and other sports that were postponed due to the pandemic in their original spot on the calendar — that attitude has been adopted by the rest of the team.
“Two things we’ve stressed since we’ve started are effort and enthusiasm,” Homich said. “Day one, obviously, they were in that transition from last year into the new regime. We’ve been preaching effort and enthusiasm, and from that point on they’ve really responded.”
“We’re sticking together as a team and not getting our heads down,” Robinson said. “We’re picking each other up, even after not-so-good plays.”
Though all five starters on the line — plus junior Garrett McHeard, who started at tight end in 2019 and essentially functioned as a sixth lineman — are back, the combinations might not always be the same.
Robinson and Simon will be glued at the hip on the right side, but at practices prior to Week 1 the Rams were working with a few different alignments with their first-team offense, including some packages that feature the 6-foot-6 Shatas as a tight end. Meanwhile, the 6-foot-0, 240-pound McHeard has moved from tight end to running back.
But, just having the same cast of characters back certainly inspires a sense of confidence in the Amsterdam huddle.
“I feel safe, I’ll tell you that,” senior quarterback Tommy Ziskin said. “I feel good. I’ve got a lot of trust with those guys, and I’m excited to see what we can do.”
Even though it’s another week later than expected, Homich is hoping to start his coaching tenure off with a bang. For him, that means that success begins up front.
“We still have the same old Amsterdam philosophy,” he said. “You want to make sure you control the line of scrimmage.”
Robinson and his cohorts on the line are planning to do that, and more, this spring.
“We want to go out, show them what we’ve been working on,” Robinson said, “and what kind of team we’ve become.”