SCHENECTADY — Before practice Tuesday, Schenectady football coach Carm DePoalo was reminiscing about his 2008 team that won a program-record eight games and played for a Section II championship.
The groundwork for that edition was put in place the year before when DePaolo guided his Patriots to five wins and a playoff spot. He believes his current edition could be in that same type of building position in anticipation of bigger things that lie ahead.
“It’s a growth year for us, and hopefully, we can surprise some people,” DePoalo said. “We want to get better, and we want to win games.”
Schenectady will strive for those things with a roster led by senior quarterback Nik Sanchez, a big and experienced offensive line, and a bunch of newcomers who will fill significant roles all over the field.
“I think we can be competitive,” DePoalo said. “We are young and this and that, but I also believe we can be this and that.”
That optimism is based on what the veteran coach and his staff has seen leading up to game week, with Amsterdam heading to Larry Mulvaney Field for a 6 p.m. non-classification contest Friday.
“The kids came in with a good attitude. They came in during the [summer] heat,” DePoalo said. “I’m really enjoying this group. They have been giving me everything they’ve got.”
“Everybody’s attitude is positive,” said Sanchez, who quarterbacked Schenectady to a 3-1 mark in the second half of the 2021 season after the Pats started out 0-4. “We’ve got to stay positive and stay motivated. We all have to stay on the same level.”
Schenectady will be looking to build on those positive vibes while traversing through a difficult early-season schedule that, after the game with Class A Amsterdam, includes Class AA league matchups with Shenendehowa, CBA, Saratoga Springs and Guilderland. CBA beat Shenendehowa for the Section II Class AA championship last season.
“We did some good things in our scrimmage [with Troy and Columbia], but we made little mistakes. When we start to play games that count, we can’t afford to make those little mistakes like we did,” said DePoalo, whose Pats began the 2021 season with double-digit setbacks against Shaker, Saratoga, CBA and Shenendehowa. “Let’s hang in there. If it’s 0-0 after the first quarter, that’s fine. We can’t afford to be down 21-0, or 30-0 at the half. We want to give ourselves a chance.”
“We have to practice with energy, and come into games with energy,” Sanchez said.
Schenectady’s league schedule closes out with games against Colonie, Bethlehem and Shaker. Sanchez had one of his best varsity games last season with a touchdown run and four scoring passes in a 50-30 homecoming win over Colonie.
“He is our leader,” DePoalo said of Sanchez, who as a junior was selected a second-team Section II Class AA all-star. “We’ve got to keep him healthy. We’ve got to give him protection.”
Schenectady returns Domenico Aldi, Khalil Hayes, Steven Brown and Damon Royal from last year’s starting offensive line, though Royal has shifted to tight end. DePaolo believes he’ll have one of the bigger offensive lines in Section II led by Brown, a sophomore center who checks in at 300 pounds.
“It’s basically the same line as last year. Our big kids and our younger skill kids have to execute, and I believe they will,” Sanchez said. “Once the younger guys get more reps, I think they’ll be more comfortable. The game moves faster at this level and it takes time to get into a flow.”
“I know our running backs are very, very young,” DePoalo said. “But they can also be very, very exciting.”
Amsterdam has one of the more exciting players in Section II in senior quarterback Jhai Vellon, the 2021 Section II Class A Offensive Player of the Year.
“They’ve got Superman. We’ve got to contain him [Vellon],” DePoalo said. “After Amsterdam we get Shenendehowa, and they’ve got some new guys working in like we do. Maybe we can catch them.”