Guilderland High School provided one of the real feel-good stories of the 2007 football season with its re-emergence as a Section II power and first Super Bowl trip.
The Dutchmen set a program record with eight victories, beating Saratoga Springs and Shenendehowa back-to-back as a springboard toward the playoffs, and in them, coach Dan Penna’s team soared past Schenectady and regular season nemesis Ballston Spa before running into LaSalle.
The Dutchmen’s playoff resume beforehand included three appearances, and just one win, in 1996 against Bishop Maginn, and it took overtime to accomplish that.
“Inevitably, we’ll be compared to last season. The kids understand that, but they are really looking forward to establishing their own team identity this season,” said Penna, whose 2007 team finished with a No. 19 state Class AA ranking. “Most programs can’t replace standout players like the ones we had last year, and we’re no different. The players realize that they have to perform to their own
potential and become the best players they can be for us to have a successful season.”
Guilderland had some superb seasons in past years, but none of them were quite like the 2007 campaign. Its core group of players were arguably the finest ever assembled at the school, led by do-everything quarterback Drew Smith, powerful runner Paul Booker, the linebacking duo of Peter Stanish and Paul Malamood, two-way end Joe Cardillo, two-way lineman Devan Van Auken, and fullback/nose guard Jason Lawrence.
Van Auken and Lawrence, both seniors, are the only holdovers from that all-star group. And Lawrence is the only player on the Guilderland roster who scored a touchdown during last fall’s brilliant run.
“We had a great season. You’ll always remember that stuff, but we’re not focusing on last year. This is our team, and we’ve been working together to establish that,” said Van Auken, who will start at tackle and defensive end when the Dutchmen line up Friday night opposite Bethlehem. “You want to be yourself. You don’t want to follow in someones footsteps. You want to do our own thing.”
Several Dutchmen already have.
“When we were choosing numbers, in four or five different situations, kids avoided a number that was worn last year,” said Penna, who will have no player wearing No. 10 (Smith), No. 35 (Stanish), 39 (Cardillo) or No. 82 (Malamood). “They want to establish their own identity. They want to define themselves as a team.”
It is a team that, despite its heavy player turnover, believes it can win. It is a team with postseason aspirations.
“We have to mature over the first few games,” said Penna, whose roster includes 17 seniors, 22 juniors and one sophomore in quarterback Ryan Smith. “I’m excited about this year. I think they will mature and have some success. Last year gave them the hunger, and now they have to do something with it.”
“Just because we lost some guys doesn’t mean the program is down,” Van Auken said. “We have high hopes. We’ve been building this team and we’ve been bonding together. We’ve been doing things that are necessary to be successful.”