A new program, new two-division setup and two teams down from Class C give the Class D league a fresh look this season.
But will the end result be the same?
Canajoharie certainly is looking for a different outcome.
In their first year at the Class D level, the Cougars were perfect in the league season, but fell to Fort Edward in the sectional championship game. A solid group of returning players could push Ken Sullivan's team to another strong season as they compete in the league's South Division with Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons, Greenwich, Rensselaer and Saratoga Central Catholic.
FORT EDWARD (5-1, 8-3)
Head coach: Kevin Stimpson.
Top returning players: Tyler Carpenter (RB), Bob Phillips (QB), Ray Cummings (RB/DL).
2007 season: Beat Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons, 78-7, in Section II quarterfinals; beat Rensselaer, 40-0, in semifinals; beat Canajoharie, 30-13, in Section II championship; lost to Ticonderoga, 27-16, in state quarterfinals.
(1-6, 2-7 CLASS C)
Head coach: Jeff Bennett.
Top returning players: Jake Nelson (RB/DL), J.D. DeWaard (QB), Caleb Meroski (RB/DB)
2007 season: Did not qualify for postseason play.
SALEM (1-5, 1-8)
Head coach: Pat Niles.
Top returning players: Alex Baker (WR/DB), Kyle McKeighan (QB), David Northshield (RB).
2007 season: Lost to Rensselaer, 32-12, in Section II quarterfinals.
WARRENSBURG (2-4, 3-6)
Head coach: Mike Leonbruno.
Top returning players: Brendan Frye (QB), Tom Holmgren (QB/RB), Logan Rock (FB/DL).
2007 season: Lost to Whitehall, 22-18, in Section II quarterfinals.
WHITEHALL (3-3, 4-4)
Head coach: Bob Schoonmaker.
Top returning players: Kevin McDonald (RB), Justin Phillips (RB)
2007 season: beat Warrensburg, 22-18, in Section II quarterfinals; lost to Canajoharie, 24-0, in semifinals.
NOTRE DAME-BISHOP GIBBONS (0-6, 0-8)
Head coach: Joe Whipple.
Top returining players: Derrick Pitts (QB), John Sise (QB/DB), Ryan Maxwell (WR), Andrew Pallas (OL), Robert Redman (WR).
2007 season: Lost to Fort Edward in Section II quarterfinals, 78-7.
CANAJOHARIE (6-0, 9-1)
Head coach: Ken Sullivan.
Top returning players: Dylan Slater (RB/LB), Payton Stahler (QB/DB), Dane O'Neil (WR/LB), Nathan McRedmond (OL/DL).
2007 season: Regular-season champion; beat Whitehall, 24-0, in Section II semifinals; lost to Fort Edward, 30-13, in Section II championship game.
(3-4, 4-5 Class C)
Head coach: Brandon Linnett.
Top returning players: Colby Stout (RB), Zack Jordan (OL/DL), Chad Niles (OL/LB), James VanDeWater (QB).
2007 season: Did not qualify for postseason play.
RENSSELAER (4-2, 6-3)
Head coach: Joel Preston.
Top returning players: Shane Brozowski (RB/DB), Paul Dominy (LB), Jasheem Hamilton (RB/LB).
2007 season: Beat Salem, 32-12, in Section II quarterfinals; lost to Fort Edward, 40-0, in semifinals.
SARATOGA CENTRAL CATHOLIC (1st year)
Head coach: Phonsey Lambert.
Top players: Dylan Anderson (QB), Conor Mehan (OL), Dave Mulcahy (RB/LB), Ryan Kramer (OT), Jeremy Furey (C/LB).
Greenwich is down from Class C. Saratoga Catholic is playing varsity football for the first time since 1988.
Two-time Section II champ Fort Edward, Warrensburg,
Salem, Whitehall and Lake George comprise the North Division. Lake George is a Class C school, but
requested placement in the D's. The Warriors will not be eligible for one of the four postseason spots (two from each division).
One of those four spots is one of the goals of Canajoharie.
"The main thing you always have to worry about at this level is injuries," said Sullivan, beginning his 10th season with the Cougars. "It's the same for all the Class D teams. You have your good players, and hope no one gets hurt."
Canajoharie gets a big weapon back in running back Dylan Slater.
"He led us in scoring last season," said Sullivan. "He's the type of runner who can make the big play, get through the line and break off a
Helping create running room for Slater will be veteran linemen Brandon Smith and Nick McRedmond.
Payton Stahler, a junior, will be the quarterback.
"He's a tall kid, 6-foot-4, with a good arm," said Sullivan, who foresees Stahler's arm and Slater's legs stretching opposing defenses.
Dane O'Neil, another junior, will also be a prominent player on
Sullivan expects a tough divisional battle.
"Saratoga Catholic has kids that went unbeaten at the modified and JV levels the past two years, and Greenwich is usually a big, physical team," said Sullivan, whose team is in its second season at the Class D level.
Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons returns one of the top offensive threats in the league in junior Derrick Pitts.
"He's been hanging out in the weight room, he ran track, he's ready for a big season," said Joe Whipple, who is in his second year at the helm of the Golden Knights. "He's been nothing but a team leader. He's really helping to set the tone."
Pitts, a danger at running back and kick returner in 2007, will move into a different role this season. With Adam DeFruscio not at the school, Whipple has moved Pitts to quarterback.
"We still want to get him as many touches as we can," said Whipple, who may also use 11th-grader Joe Sise under center.
Also back to help the offense, which produced 20 points or better on four occasions a year ago, are 11th-graders Ryan Maxwell
(receiver), junior Robert Redman (receiver) and Connor Dougherty, and senior Andy Pallas (center).
Defense was the undoing of the Knights a year ago, as their game scores more often looked like basketball halftime scores. Whipple hopes that problem will be partly resolved by having more depth,
which will result in fewer players having to go every snap of the game.
The Knights opened preseason with 27 players, and will field a JV team, a luxury the program has not had for severals seasons.
"There's more enthusiasm," said Whipple. "We went to three different camps. It was the first real offseason some of these kids have had, as far as football goes. We're building their confidence, and I think they're beginning to see results."
"But we're still a young team, and for some of these kids, this is just their second year of football."
Can success at the modified and junior varsity level in a reborn program carry over to the varsity stage?
Saratoga Central Catholic is about to find out.
The Saints have gone unbeaten at the two levels below varsity the past two falls, as they try to re-establish a program that had been dormant since the 1988 season.
Saratoga Catholic coach Phonsey Lambert will be running most of the players from those two teams onto the field Friday night in the Saint's season opener at Canajoharie.
"We've got a lot of athletes. We're going to match our athletes up against your athletes and see what happens," said Lambert of the Saints' attitude.
But like all small school teams, the Saints cannot afford injuries.
"We've got to stay healthy," said Lambert. "It's a numbers game at all small schools."
Lambert's eight veterans are
juniors Dave Mulcahy, Ryan Kramer, Conor Mehan and Jeremy Furey; sophomores Dylan Anderson, Jordan Stubblebine and Billy
McDonough; and freshman John Walsh.
Anderson will be the Saints' quarterback. Mulcahy, Stubblebine and McDonough will share the running back spots.
Lambert is looking at former Class D champions as an example for his 34 players, who will also play at the JV level.
"Fort Edward went to the state final in 2000, and they had a
senior class with 10 boys," he said. "You can win with small numbers, but you've got to stay healthy. It's a numbers game at all small schools."
Rensselaer brings back all-league selections Shane Brozowski,
Jasheem Hamilton and Paul Dominy.
Greenwich took a big hit from graduation, and could benefit from playing in a smaller enrollment classification.
In the North Division, the Flying Forts will try to replace the 1-2 punch of Tony Breeyear and
Warrensburg has solid players back in Brendan Frye and Logan Rock for new coach Mike Leonbruno; first-year Whitehall coach Bob Schoonmaker must replace the 14 TDs produced by Cole Roque; and Salem has a solid quarterback in Kyle McKeighan.
Lake George, like Greenwich, may benefit from playing in Class D, with quarterback J.D. DeWaard and runners Jake Nelson and Caleb Meroski back.