AMSTERDAM — The one word John Homich used to sum up his first season as Amsterdam’s varsity football coach?
Playing football in March and April as part of New York’s “Fall II” high school sports season presented challenges for coaches throughout the area, but Homich’s maiden campaign with the Rugged Rams was beset by more issues than he could have expected.
Not only was the first-year coach tasked with getting his team — which hadn’t played in nearly 18 months — up to speed in just two weeks without the benefit of a full offseason program, but just as the Rams were set to open up their campaign, their scheduled first game against Albany was called off when members of the Amsterdam program exhibited symptoms of COVID-19, forcing players and coaches to quarantine.
Following that was a shifting schedule filled with frustrating, hard-luck results. Amsterdam finished its Fall II campaign with a 0-5 record, but after starting the season with decisive losses to Troy and La Salle, the team’s final three games of the season — against Averill Park, Ballston Spa and Mohonasen — all featured scenarios in which the Rams either took the lead or had a chance to win in the closing minutes, only for the result to go against them.
“We never envisioned the outcome that we experienced this year,” Homich said in a phone interview.
Against Averill Park, a wild game saw the Rams take the lead in the final two minutes, only for Averill Park to go back in front when the Warriors responded to Amsterdam’s go-ahead score by returning the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown. Amsterdam answered with a scoring drive of its own, but a 2-point conversion attempt was stuffed as the Rams fell 41-40.
The next week at Ballston Spa, backup quarterback Jhai Vellon led a go-ahead touchdown drive in the final minute, only for the Scotties to drive back down the field and score on the final play for a 34-31 win.
Finally, in a crossover game with Mohonasen, Amsterdam saw an early 12-0 lead evaporate, then had the chance to go back in front in the closing minutes, only for an interception at the 1-yard line to seal Mohonasen’s 15-12 win.
“You break down the film, each and every week,” Homich said, “and a lot of those games are decided by a play or two that could’ve swung either way. One thing we did find out is that the things that did happen, we’re going to build off it going into next season. We’re going to use it as a learning tool to propel us into the future.”
Those three heartbreaking losses came as Amsterdam’s depth dwindled. When practice opened at the beginning of March, the roster was 40 players strong. In the finale against Mohonasen, just 22 players dressed.
Though the results never ended in Amsterdam’s favor, Homich expressed pride in his team’s toughness in adverse situations.
“I told everyone, ‘We’ve got to row the boat. You’ve got to stay focused on yourself and do your job,’” he said. “They really took that to heart. They did it, and they fought for four straight quarters in each game.”
In many ways, the COVID pause that caused the cancellation of the Albany game threw the Rams for a loop for the rest of the season. The team went from the excitement of opening its season with the first football game on the newly refurbished field at Lynch Literacy Academy, to days of uncertainty, to being thrown immediately into the fire by playing its first game against powerhouse Troy.
“It’s always going to be in the back of your mind,” Homich said. “We tried to not let it be a distraction . . . but it did take a toll on us, mentally.”
Despite the tough season, there’s plenty that Homich said that he and his coaching staff will be able to use moving forward to get the program back to its historic level of success.
Homich also said the team plans to incorporate more situational work into its practices, in a hope to avoid some of the late-game lapses that cost the Rams in their final three losses.
A number of young players got valuable experience this season, which should benefit a program that will be heading into next fall having not fielded a junior varsity or modified program during Fall II.
There’s also a core group of returning players — Alex Simon and Christian Robinson on the line, and a skill group that includes Vellon, Louie Gonzalez, Garrett McHeard, Xavier Acevedo and Tyrell Douglas — that Homich expects to lead the charge throughout the offseason and into next fall.
“We’re getting started right away,” Homich said. “Guys started lifting this week already, and we’re finalizing our offseason workout plan to get things rolling. We’ve got a lot of work to do, especially not having a JV and modified year. There’s a lot of gaps that we have to fill in to get ready in August.”