AMSTERDAM — The one piece missing from an otherwise outstanding 2021 Amsterdam football season was a spot in the Section II Class A playoffs.
The Rugged Rams won six games including back-to-back comeback efforts against Averill Park and Ballston Spa and posted another triumph over longtime rival Troy, and earned numerous individual accolades after a winless “Fall II” campaign just a few months before.
“Going 0-5 and then coming back three months later and winning six games, it was a special season,” third-year Amsterdam head coach John Homich said after a recent practice. “There was a vibe when we came back.”
The Rugged Rams finished 6-2 overall and 4-1 in the Capital Division, with a late-season 27-26 overtime loss to division foe La Salle ultimately costing them one of the four Class A postseason berths. Their other loss came against Niskayuna 29-28 in a season-ending non-division contest.
“It hurts, especially the La Salle game,” Amsterdam senior quarterback and free safety Jhai Vellon said of losing twice by one point. “We were up 20-6 against La Salle. They scored two late touchdowns and got an onside kick and it went to overtime.”
“It did put a pit in our stomach,” said Homich, whose team lost out on a playoff spot after a tiebreaker with La Salle and Averill Park. “We used it as motivation in the offseason.”
Homich said he saw a bunch of hungry teens working out in preparation for a 2022 season that begins with a non-classification game at Class AA Schenectady on Sept. 9.
“We had 40 to 45 guys every day doing workouts,” Homich said. “The enthusiasm is there. You could see it when we held our meeting at the end of the [school] year.”
“We missed the playoffs last year, and getting there is one of our goals,” Amsterdam senior running back and linebacker Matt Miller said. “We’ve been striving to get that one more point every day.”
Homich and his staff will be pushing hard, trying to get the most out of a talented cast led by Vellon, the 2021 Daily Gazette and Section II Class A offensive player of the year who ran and passed for 24 touchdowns and just over 2,000 yards. Vellon was additionally named to the all-state third team as an all-purpose player.
“The next day has to be even better than the one before. We have to make sure we are taking care of the present and not thinking about what’s ahead,” Homich said. “We want to be better down the road.”
That road includes non-division games with Queensbury in Week 2 and reigning Class A champ Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake in Week 5, and a trio of division games with Averill Park, Troy and La Salle in Week 6, 7 and 8.
“We’ve gotta stay positive when things are going rough,” said Vellon, whose late scoring plays helped Amsterdam rally past Ballston Spa 38-37 and Averill Park 29-28 for the 2021 highlight wins. “We’ve got to be disciplined.”
“A lot of things have to fall together but the main thing is focus on the goal and don’t break down as a family,” Miller said. “Keep each other up. Keep each other motivated.”
“We know what we can do,” Homich said. “One thing we have been stressing is that we have 44 on the varsity roster right now, and we need 44 hearts beating as one.”
Amsterdam beat South Glens Falls 52-28 in its 2021 season opener when Vellon threw three TD passes to Ceasar Thompson, part of a 5-0 start for the Rams.
“The first game is crucial to our season,” Miller said. “In the ‘Fall II’ we started slow and never picked it up. Last year we beat South Glens Falls by 20 and everything picked up. We got a feeling of winning and didn’t want to let it go.”
Thompson, who was selected the 2021 Capital Division first-team All-Purpose Player of the Year, and Louie Gonzalez are both back to catch passes from Vellon and roam the Amsterdam secondary. Amsterdam’s veteran group also consists of three of its five starting offensive linemen in center Connor Cozzocrea, guard Nasier Reed and tackle Richie Collazo.
“Our team is full of veteran players, and from the JV we’ve got a lot of talented guys who are going to help out,” Vellon said.
Amsterdam’s player losses include Capital Division first-team all-stars Alex Simon and Christian Robinson, a pair of four-year linemen, wide receiver/defensive backs Xavier Acevedo and Tyrell Douglas, running back/linebacker Garrett McHeard, and kicker Nicholas Covey.
Acevedo clinched Amsterdam’s big win against Averill Park with an interception inside the final minute after Vellon found Thompson with a touchdown pass and Gonzalez ran for a 2-point conversion.
“We’ve got 22 guys returning and a nice mix coming up. The energy is there. We’re excited with the pieces we have,” Homich said. “It’s going to be, hopefully, exciting.”