SCHENECTADY — Back to square one.
Well, sort of.
As his Union College football team took to the turf at Frank Bailey Field on Thursday evening to kick off preseason camp, head coach Jeff Behrman acknowledged there was no use in the Dutchmen hoping to sustain momentum from their last season, considering that it ended more than 21 long months ago.
“At this point,” Behrman said, “I don’t think you carry momentum from two seasons ago.”
When the Dutchmen were last on the gridiron on Nov. 30, 2019, it was the only blemish in an otherwise spectacular season. Behrman, who arrived at Union for the 2016 season to inherit a team that went 0-10 the year before, guided the program to 11 consecutive wins to start the season before the run was finally ended with a 62-41 loss to Salisbury in the second round of the NCAA Division III tournament.
Since then, the Dutchmen have been unable to capitalize on that breakthrough season. The 2020 campaign was canceled due to restrictions brought on by the novel coronavirus pandemic, and while the program was able to conduct a few practices last fall and get back in pads for a couple weeks of workouts this past spring, the turnover from that season-ending loss to Salisbury until the opening of camp on Thursday was significant.
“This is a completely different team than the 2019 team,” Behrman said. “I said to the staff, when we started our meetings in August, that I’m treating this like Year 1. It’s like 2016, when I got here, all over again. I’m not assuming anything.”
“Right now,” safety Austin St. Pierre said, “50% of our team has never touched the field wearing a Union football jersey.”
But, there is a core group returning from that 2019 team who are expected to carry the load for the Dutchmen when the team opens its season Sept. 4 at home against Morrisville State.
Among them is quarterback Will Bellamy, who in his last time on the field for Union, broke the school’s single-game record with 456 passing yards and threw five touchdowns — one shy of the program record — in the team’s playoff loss to Salisbury.
Walking off the field that day in Maryland, Bellamy said he knew he had unfinished business in a Union jersey, and when the 2020 season was canceled, it made his choice to use the extra year of eligibility afforded to all collegiate athletes by the NCAA a total no-brainer.
“I just knew what I had coming back,” Bellamy said. “Coach Behrman has been very loyal to me, and when I committed to this program, I wanted to bleed garnet and white. It was a pretty easy decision.”
Bellamy will orchestrate an offense that includes 2019 Liberty League Offensive Player of the Year Ike Irabor at running back and two-time All-Liberty League first team selection Andre Ross Jr. at wide receiver.
Defensively, Behrman said co-captains St. Pierre, defensive lineman Daniel Gioso and linebacker Colin Lama will play a vital role in bringing the younger Dutchmen along as the season progresses.
From a very limited sample, St. Pierre doesn’t see much problem with the team’s energy level.
“This is great. The energy we’ve had the last couple days since everyone’s been here is just insane,” he said. “We’ve had a couple kids come out here 30 minutes early, just to touch the turf.”
After all this time, everything old suddenly feels new again.
“I feel like a kid in a candy store,” Bellamy said. “Just being able to be in the locker room with the guys, playing football again, it’s something that you don’t know how much you miss it until it’s gone. Being out here with the boys, it’s a lot of fun.”