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Schenectady aims for breakthrough season in Class AA

Schenectady aims for breakthrough season in Class AA

Schenectady turned its fortunes around in a big way last fall, celebrating its 20th anniversary seas

Schenectady turned its fortunes around in a big way last fall, celebrating its 20th anniversary season with an all-time high of five victories.

Class AA

Empire Division

ALBANY (2-5, 3-6)

Head coach: Brian Spicer.

Top returnees: Jake Valentine (QB/DB), Jalon Scott (RB/LB).

2007 season: Did not qualify for postseason play.

BALLSTON SPA (6-1, 7-2)

Head coach: John Bowen.

Top returnees: Chris Callanan (OL/DL), Mark Seager (QB/DB), Nick Gallo (OL/DL), Van Huyben (OL/LB), Ryan Sparks (SE/DB), Matt Clark (TE/LB), Shane LaChance (RB/DB), Jordan Kaplan (K).

2007 season: Empire Division tri-champion; beat Troy, 34-21, in Section II quarterfinals; lost to Guilderland, 21-7, in Section II semi­finals.

BETHLEHEM (2-5, 4-5)

Head coach: Ron Smith.

Top returnees: Randy Bowers (QB), Sean Murphy (RB), Casiem Maxwell (RB), Sam Gallup (RB/WR/DB), Vincent Adams (C/DE), Reddy Abriel (OT/DE), Kevin Ray (LB), Bobby Shields (LB).

2007 season: Did not qualify for postseason play.

CBA (3-4, 3-6)

Head coach: Matt Gormley.

Top returnees: Andrew Vivian (QB/DB), Jack Riley (RB/LB), James LaMarco (OL/DL), Devin O'Brien (OL/LB), Mike Gormley (OL/DE), Don Wilson (TE/LB), Zach Zaloga (FB/LB).

2007 season: Lost to LaSalle, 47-22, in Section II quarterfinals.

GUILDERLAND (6-1, 8-2)

Head coach: Dan Penna.

Top returnees: Devan Van Auken (OL/DL), Jason Lawrence (FB/NG), Cody Benton (OL/DL), Mike Kennedy (OL/DL), Robert Falcone (QB/DB), Jesse Terzian (RB/DB), Tony Denn (FB/LB), Matt Ward (RB/DB).

2007 season: Empire Division tri-champion; beat Schenectady, 32-13, in Section II quarter­finals; beat Ballston Spa, 21-7, in Section II semifinals; lost to LaSalle, 28-17, in Section II championship game.


(2-5, 4-5)

Head coach: Terry Jones.

Top returnees: Collin Mulholland (QB), Adhem Elsawi (OL/DL), Eric Hayden (OL/DL), Tony DeLoatch (RB/DL), Ford Plowman (RB/LB), Ben Cook (RB/DB).

2007 season: Did not qualify for postseason play.


Head coach: Brent Steuerwald.

Top returnees: Suhayb Banks (RB/DB), Adam Geleta (OL/DL), Peter White (OL/DL), David Bell (OL/DL), Steven Brown (OL/DL), Mike Daly (SE/DB), Anthony Curto (FB/LB).

2007 season: Empire Division tri-champion; beat Colonie, 28-14, in Section II quarterfinals; lost to LaSalle, 42-21, in Section II semi­finals.

Liberty Division

COLONIE (4-2, 5-4)

Head coach: John Preston.

Top returnees: A.J. Monin (RB/LB), Ishmal McCann (RB/LB), Billy Westfall (OL/DL), Mike Wutzer (OL/DL), Sean Peer (TE/DE).

2007 season: Lost to Shenendehowa, 28-14, in Section II quarterfinals.

COLUMBIA (0-6, 1-8)

Head coach: Anthony Servidone.

Top returnees: Bob Peluso (FB/LB), Alex Tesoriero (K/TB/DB), Bob Smith (QB/DB), Jimmy Madden (TB/DB), Ian Bridegroom (OL/LB).

2007 season: Did not qualify for postseason play.

LASALLE (6-0, 9-2)

Head coach: Al Rapp.

Top returnees: Marquis Terrell (RB/DB), Ken Altarac (OL/DL), Lou DiNovo (WR/DB), Caniaan Lacey (WR/DB).

2007 season: Liberty Division champion; beat CBA, 47-22, in Section II quarterfinals; beat Shenendehowa, 42-21, in Section II semi­finals; beat Guilderland, 28-17, in Section II championship game; lost to Monroe-Woodbury, 42-20, in state quarterfinals.

NISKAYUNA (2-4, 2-6)

Head coach: John Furey

Top returnees: Dan Peters (QB/LB),

Peter Furey (WR/LB), Ryan Alden (WR/DB), Kadeem Miller (WR/DB), Gregg Rahn (K/WR/DB), Peter McGuirk (OL/DL), Joe Twitty (RB/LB).

2007 season: Did not qualify for postseason play.

SCHENECTADY (3-3, 5-4)

Head coach: Carm DePoalo.

Top returnees: Nick Ottati (QB), Marc Thompson (RB/LB), Marcus Brandon (TE/DE), Kwame Hilts (OL/DE), Dan Desbians (OL/DE), Nick Barone (OL/DL), Billy Rios (OL/DL), Brandon Anderson (OL/DL).

2007 season: Schenectady's first winning season (program started in 1988); lost to Guilderland, 32-13, in Section II quarterfinals.

SHAKER (1-5, 1-8)

Head coach: Dennis Bender.

Top returnees: Mark Ambrosio (QB), Matt McNeil (OL/DL), Andrew Boldish (OL/DL), Mike Ofusu (RB/DB), Robert Johnson (WR/DE), Parker Armsby (WR/DB).

2007 season: Did not qualify for postseason play.

The Patriots are looking for more to begin their third decade of varsity play. Much more.

"We made the playoffs last year, and that was great, but this year that's not good enough," said second-year head coach Carm DePoalo. "I have a great staff and great kids, and we all have a job to do. We're excited. Expectations are high."

That's because Schenectady features nine returning starters on both offense and defense from a team that went 5-4 overall last year and reached the postseason for the first time since 2003. With that, the Patriots have been thrust into the role of co-favorite with LaSalle Institute to capture the Class AA Liberty Division banner.

Schenectady placed fourth in the Liberty Division last year behind Colonie, Troy and LaSalle, the eventual Section II large-school champion. Troy, as well as Queensbury of the Empire Division, have dropped down to Class A based on enrollment.

"We're no longer under the radar. There's definitely a target on us," said DePoalo, who has a roster of 48. "We'll see if we can handle the pressure with the target on our back."

Schenectady did not handle sectional playoff pressure very well late last season and lost at Guilderland, 32-12, in a quarterfinal game. The Patriots, though, bounced back with a 40-0 crossover win against Mohonasen, a game in which Daily Gazette first-team tailback Marc Thompson produced a school-record 411 rushing yards and four touchdowns.

That fifth win surpassed the four Schenectady put up in 2001, 2000, 1994 and 1988, its inaugural season. Schenectady also knocked off Millbrook, Columbia, Niskayuna and Shaker, while losing by a touchdown to Colonie, and by eight points to Troy. The five victories equaled its win total from the four previous years.

"Our thing is heart and attitude," DePoalo said. "If we're satisfied with last year, we'll go 0-9. We've got to work harder. We've got to play with a sense of urgency."

Schenectady will open play Friday night at Larry Mulvaney Field in a crossover game against 10-time Section II champion Shenendehowa. Shenendehowa shared the Empire Division title with

Guilderland and Ballston Spa in 2007, and went 7-2 overall after a 42-14 sectional semifinal loss to LaSalle.

"I expect nothing but a tough game," DePoalo said. "If we come out and beat them, it would be a big notch in our belt. That's a huge game for our team. For our program."

Thompson set a team record with 1,695 rushing yards as a

junior and scored 18 touchdowns. His 411-yard effort against

Mohonasen ranks third on the all-time Section II list, and his

381-yard rushing performance against Niskayuna ranks fifth.

"I believe he's one of the top 10 running backs in the state,"

DePoalo said of the Liberty Division All-Purpose Player of the Year and Gazette first-team All-Area star. "He probably put on 10, 15 pounds of muscle. He's bigger and stronger. He should be exceptional."

Schenectady also returns starting quarterback Nick Ottati,

6-foot-4 tight end Marcus Brandon and four offensive line veterans in Kwami Hilts, Dan Desbiens, Nick Barone and Billy Rios. Linebackers Thompson and Desbiens, and ends Brandon and Hilts will anchor the defense.

"We're going to be better than last year. We have an athletic group. We've got some depth," said DePoalo, whose key losses are

receiver Josh Mason and defensive tackle Garrett Gross. "We're con­fident, but not overconfident."

"They have a ton of athletes," LaSalle coach Al Rapp said of Schenectady, his Week-6 opponent. "If they can get over the hump of learning how to win, they've got the potential to shake some people up."

Marquis Terrell did that often as a junior at LaSalle last season, producing school rushing records with 1,926 yards and 30 touchdowns in helping the Cadets win their second sectional champ­ionship in three years. The Daily Gazette first-team tailback went for 365 yards and amassed seven touchdowns "” setting two more school records "” in a 61-37 win over Schenectady.

"A lot will hinge on how our

offensive line comes together," said Rapp. "If they can get him [Terrell] a crease, that's all he needs."

LaSalle has only one starting lineman returning in two-way tackle Ken Altarac, an all-league pick and state and national wrestling champion. Wide receiver Lou DiNovo and defensive back Can­iaan Lacey are the other returning starters for a team that scored four fourth-quarter touchdowns to beat

Guilderland, 28-17, in the Super Bowl.

Junior varsity graduates Mike Murry and Josh Terry are the candidates to replace quarterback Jared Henkel, the Liberty Division Player of the Year who passed for 1,567 yards and 14 TDs before moving on to Union College.

"We've got a lot of kids back who played some but were not the stars," said Rapp. "I told them, 'If you want to stay on top, you've got to work.' It's tough to repeat. It's tough to stay there."

LaSalle opens up Friday night at Colonie, which lost 24 seniors, including quarterback Tom Duff and hard-running scoring leader Joe Poleto.

"We were a senior-driven team last year. This year we're real young, but we've got a hard-working group and they play together well," said coach John Preston, who is filling in this year for Mike Ambrosio. "They know no one picked them to do much, so that's got them motivated."

Colonie's top returnees are two-way linemen Billy Westfall and Mike Wutzer, running back/linebacker A.J. Monin, running back Ishmal McCann, and tight end/defensive end Sean Peer. Mike Branche, a JV graduate, takes over for Duff.

"Last year, we were picked to go to the Super Bowl and we lost in the first round of the playoffs," said Preston. "The year before we were picked last and got to the

Super Bowl. You never know how it's going to shake out."

Coach Ambrosio took the year off to watch his son, Mark, who'll be Shaker's starting quarterback after seeing time at that spot and at running back in 2007. Mark Ambrosio will be striving to lift Shaker back to the playoffs after a two-year absense.

"We play Newburgh Free and Ballston Spa, then it comes down to five division games. They're all important," said Shaker coach Dennis Bender. "A sneeze, a hiccup and a fumble, and all of a sudden, you're not in the playoffs."

With a cast of 50, including

returning two-way linemen Matt McNeil and Andrew Boldish, wide outs Robert Johnson and Parker Armsby, tailback Mike Ofuso and tight end/defensive end Joe Shields, Bender believes his team will be in playoff contention. He also has several players up from the 2007 JV Super Bowl championship team.

"I'm looking at LaSalle and Schenectady as the front-runners. Their running backs are scary, but everybody is talented. It's very, very balanced," he said. "If we can stay injury free, I think we'll make some noise.

Columbia coach Anthony Servidone thinks his Blue Devils will, too. He has eight starters returning on offense and six on defense, including quarterback/linebacker Bob Smith, fullback/linebacker Bob Peluso, two-way lineman Dan

Maloney and versatile Alex Tesor­iero, an all-league kicker.

"We were a young team last year and we got beat up pretty good," said Servidone. "This is a new year. When our seniors were sophomores, they went 8-1 and their only loss was in the [JV]

Super Bowl. Our goal is to get back to the playoffs."

Columbia will open up at home against Niskayuna on its new turf field. The Silver Warriors are also looking for a turnaround season, and their first playoff bid since 2005.

"Obviously, getting off on the right foot is important. Very important," said coach John Furey, who has seven starters back on both sides of the ball, including first-team Liberty Division quarterback Dan Peters. "Our kids are charged up to play on Columbia's turf."

Niskayuna's veteran cast includes wide out/linebacker Pete Furey, ends/defensive backs Ryan Alden, Gregg Rahn and Kadeem Miller, and Peter McGuirk, who shifts from guard to center in place of four-year standout Gary Chrys.

"I feel good about them," said Furey. "We've got good skill on the perimeter and increased speed from last year. If we can get on a little roll, I think good things can happen."

Empire Division

Shenendehowa coach Brent Steuerwald calls it a transition year. That doesn't necessarily mean a down year for one of Section II's premier programs.

"We only have 14 seniors, but there's good quality in that class, and we have outstanding size. We'll be one of the biggest clubs in the area," said Steuerwald, who lost 29 12th-graders to graduation from last year's 7-2 edition. "I believe we'll be competitive and be in games. Our goal is to win."

The Plainsmen will attempt to do so with a new faces in featured places. Suhayb Banks will start at tailback after serving as a backup and punt returner in 2007, and either Andrew Kalish or Tyler Dehmer will take over the quarterback spot after filling reserve roles a year ago. Steuerwald will also call on 6-4, 285-pound lineman Austin Lane and tailback/safety Bronson Green, a pair of promising varsity newcomers.

Among Shenendehowa's other returning lettermen are two-way linemen Adam Geleta (6-2, 285), David Bell (6-3, 230), Peter White (6-1, 230) and Steven Brown (6-5, 250), fullback/linebacker Anthony Curto, and running back/safety Mike Daly.

Challenging schedule

Shenendehowa opens its season with three straight road games,

going to Albany and Guilderland after Friday's matchup at Schen­ectady.

"That's going to be a very challenging game," Steuerwald said. "Schenectady is getting their act together."

Ballston Spa has to get its backfield in order due to the grad­uation of its standout running trio of of Steve Duncan, Eric Marciano and Dan Decker. Lettermen Shane

LaChance and newcomers Josh

Fabiani, Bill Cook and Kyle Warmt are leading candidates to run behind a line that features four-year starter Chris Callanan and fellow veterans Nick Gallo and Van Huyben. Coach John Bowen also has lettermen Dylan Drosness and Tony Franks, and JV grads Mike Riani and Chris Ormitt to call on for interior help on both sides.

Junior Mark Seager is back for another season at quarterback. The Scotties' veteran cast also includes running back/defensive end Keenan Shannon, split end/defensive back Ryan Sparks and tight end/linebacker Matt Clark.

Guilderland has only a handful of key contributors back from its first Super Bowl team, led by three-year standouts Devan Van Auken, a 6-3, 240-pound Division I college line prospect, and fullback/nose guard Jason Lawrence.

"Those kids coming back have a strong desire to get back to where we were," said coach Dan Penna, whose losses include quarterback Drew Smith and linebacker Peter Stanish, who topped the 2007

Gazette All-Area teams. "They know they have to perform well and lead well because in terms of varsity experience, we're young."

Guilderland has two other line veterans in Cody Benton and Mike Kennedy, and lettermen Jesse

Terzian and Tony Denn to run with Lawrence. Mike Heiserman is the most experienced receiver in an offense that will be quarterbacked by either senior Robert Falcone or sophomore Ryan Smith.

Falcone and Matt Ward return to the secondary, with Denn, Billy Kemp and Cody Futia expected to help anchor the defense.

"We've got to build some confidence, and getting off to a good start against Bethlehem will help," said Van Auken. "We want to get on a roll right off, and hopefully, keep the season rolling along."

Streaks hope to rebound

Saratoga Springs took a downward turn in 2007, and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1997. The Blue Streaks bring back 24 players, including seven offensive and six defensive starters.

"A lot of us still have a bitter taste in our mouth," said 6-6, 315-pound line star Adhem Elsawi. "We're

determined to get back to Saratoga's legacy. We have the talent, and we want to win."

Collin Mulholland is back at quarterback after taking over for injured Jim Minogue in the fifth week of 2007. Eric Hayden is another tested lineman, and running backs Ford Plowman, Tony DeLoatch, Ben Cook and Leejay Pollacchi all took handoffs last fall while combining for 25 touchdowns.

Saratoga's returning cast also features linemen Alex A'Hearn, Dave Schewe and Harrison Kim, and a quality linebacking unit of Will Dreyer, Ryan Woodcock and Zach Hartman.

"The past three seasons we haven't started well, so our immed­iate goal is to go 1-0," said second-year coach Terry Jones. "There's only seven games, and when you're 0-1 after the first game, it's a tough hole to put yourself in."

"I saw them in summer camp and they were one of the better teams," Bethlehem coach Ron Smith said of the Blue Streaks. "That wasn't a typical Saratoga team last year, and they're out to redeem themselves."

Likewise Bethlehem, which lost its first three games last fall to quickly slip from playoff contention. The Eagles did rebound well, though, winning four of their final six games, and bring back eight offensive and five defensive starters.

"Can we be in the top four in the division and make the playoffs?" asked Smith. "We've got players who believe we can. They know what they've got to do."

Bethlehem will showcase two of the league's best in quarterback Randy Bowers and running back Sean Murphy, and versatile Sam Gallup, who can make an impact running, receiving and in the

defensive secondary. Running back Casiem Maxwell, two-way linemen Vincent Adams and Teddy Abriel, and linebackers Kevin Ray and Bobby Shields are other team leaders.

Christian Brothers Academy has only eight seniors and 27 players in all, led by all-league quarterback Andrew Vivian and Jack Reilly, the team's leading rusher and scorer in 2007. Linemen James LaMarco, Devin O'Brien and Mike Gormley, fullback/linebacker Zach Zaloga and middle linebacker Don Wilson also return.

"We've got to work like crazy to compete with these guys," said CBA coach Matt Gormley. "We're not considered one of the top dogs. Hopefully we can win some games."

Four sophomores and 6-4,

300-pound junior lineman Alex Gecewicz are among the newcomers.

First-year Albany coach Brian Spicer is looking to turn the Falcons' fortunes around, just as he did at Ohio schools East Canton, Marlington and Marietta, yet he knows it will take some time and plenty of hard work. The Falcons have only a handful of varsity vetrans, led by quarterback/safety Jake Valentine and running back/linebacker Jalon Scott.

"We've got about seven or eight guys who were on the team last year," Spicer said. "This is a

process, and I believe as the season goes on, we'll all get better. We're taking this week to week."

Spicer said he's been impressed with the sophomore trio of end/safety Kawan Nunnally, running back/linebacker Dominique Daniels and lineman Michael DePersin. Junior lineman Evan Laccetti, and the senior threesome of wide out/linebacker Darrell McKnight, running back/safety Curtis Holloman and lineman Khalil Fredericks, also stepped to the fore in preseason workouts.

"This is a huge adjustment for everybody," said Spicer, who has inherited a team with two winning season (2004-05) since its Super Bowl victory in 1996. "I'm new. Most of the team is new. We'll be running a new system."

Albany will attack its foes with the spread option offense.

"When I was at Marietta I took that offense from West Virginia, which is right on the border. I liked what they were doing, and with it, we set a number of school records," Spicer said. "You've got to have the athletes to do it, and I believe we do."

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