SCHENECTADY — Ask most of Union’s returning football players, and to a man they’ll admit that the heartbreaking way the Dutchmen’s 2021 season ended still sticks in their craw.
“Big time,” senior offensive lineman Stan Koss said Friday after the team wrapped up its second preseason practice at Frank Bailey Field. “We weren’t happy with the way things ended last season. It’s definitely hitting deep with us.”
“We’ve definitely been thinking about it for a while,” added senior defensive lineman Jack Flanagan. “All through the lifts and offseason things we’ve been going through, we’re thinking about it and pushing ourselves even harder.”
That’s not a particularly surprising response.
After all, Union was 30 seconds away from a share of the Liberty League title, a likely at-large berth into the NCAA Division III playoffs and a third-straight win over archrival RPI to retain the Dutchman Shoes trophy.
Then came the wild finishing sequence as RPI scored a late touchdown, was stopped on a two-point conversion attempt to take the lead, then recovered an onside kick and moved the ball into position for kicker Trevor Bisson — a converted soccer player who’d only joined the RPI football team the week of the game — to hit a 36-yard field goal through a driving rainstorm as time expired to give the Engineers a 19-17 win and the conference title.
So, yeah, it’s a lot to get over.
But, ask Union head coach Jeff Behrman about it, however, and the answer is quite different.
“When you talk about a previous season, that’s all it is, is talk,” Behrman said. “I’m more of a person who thinks well done is better than well said. I was over last season when last season ended. You have to move forward in life, and that’s no different in football.”
Last year’s Union team went 8-2 overall and 4-2 in the Liberty League, winning its first eight games before a sour end to the season with losses to Ithaca and RPI.
The Dutchmen open their 2022 season Sept. 3 at Allegheny, with the home opener at Frank Bailey Field a week later against Worcester State.
Behrman is excited to see what this year’s group has to offer as Union sets out to go for a fifth consecutive winning season, something the program hasn’t done since its run of 13 consecutive winning campaigns from 1989-2001.
“We’re good in some spots, we have some questions in others,” Behrman said. “But, that’s why you practice, that’s why you have preseason — to see who’s going to step up and fill those roles. I feel very confident with the group of guys that we have on campus right now that we’ll find those starters, those backups and those guys that are going to produce on the field and play reps.”
The Dutchmen, an experienced team in 2021, lost a number of key contributors to graduation this offseason, but are bolstered by five players who opted to use the extra year of eligibility afforded by the cancellation of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Four of those players — running back Ike Irabor, wide receiver Andre Ross, offensive tackle Tim Driscoll and safety Austin St. Pierre — were All-Liberty League first team selections in 2021.
Running back Joseph Ferreira is the fifth member of that “super senior” group, and should give the Dutchmen a deep group in the backfield this season. Irabor ran for 832 yards last season, while Jonathan Anderson and Michael Fiore had solid freshman seasons, combining for 684 yards and nine touchdowns.
“We’re all hungry for what’s to come this season,” Anderson said.
Perhaps the biggest question for the Dutchmen entering the season comes at quarterback following the graduation of three-year starter William Bellamy.
Behrman said it’s an open competition to start under center, with a pair of former Section II standouts — Cobleskill-Richmondville High School product Donovan Pacatte and Schuylerville High grad Stratton Sherman — as the most experienced signal-callers on the roster after both saw spot duty behind Bellamy in 2021.
“It’s a battle right now,” Behrman said. “Nobody’s going to be named the starter until after the scrimmage, and possibly the first week of the season. That’s how it is at quite a few positions, to be honest. Quarterback always gets a lot of the attention, but there’s quite a few guys that are fighting for starting jobs right now.”
Energy’s been high in the opening days of camp, even before pads came on for the first time Saturday.
And, while the Nov. 12 rematch with RPI is certainly circled on many players’ calendars, they’re also aware that it’s a long journey to get there.
“We take things one day at a time,” Koss said. “It’s only Day 2 of camp right now. . . . If we do things right, by the end of the season we should be where we think we should be.”