The veteran players on the Shenendehowa football team helped make coach Brent Steuerwald’s final season one full of great accomplishment and lasting memories.
They’d like to do the same for Brian Clawson in his first go-round with one of Section II’s most successful programs.
“This is the first chapter of his head coaching career. In a way, it’s the last chapter for our careers,” said Chris Miller, a senior linebacker and fullback. “We want to make it great.”
It started that way Monday at Shenendehowa’s first official practice of the 2012 season on the turf at Steuerwald Stadium.
“Everyone was so enthusiastic, so excited,” said Clawson. “The guys showed so much commitment in the weight room and in the camps we’ve done, and they brought that into today. To get here and get it started, it was great. I couldn’t be happier.”
“The intensity was up,” said Miller. “We love what we’re doing right now.”
Clawson brought his upbeat demeanor to his 12th season-starting practice at Shenendehowa, but first in charge of the varsity.
“He’s a great coach. He’s the most enthusiastic guy you’ll meet,” said Kyle Buss, a senior running back and defensive corner. “He’ll coach you but stay positive. It’s always positive with him.”
Following his playing career at Johnstown and Ithaca College, Clawson served as an assistant at Princeton, Ithaca and Allegheny College. He joined the Shenendehowa staff as a junior varsity assistant in 2001.
“Last night was probably the longest night of the year for me,” Clawson said. “It’s been several months since I got the position, and the planning for this day, the preseason and the season has been all-consuming. It’s been building up, and it feels great to finally be back on the field.”
Clawson echoed that sentiment to his players after the first of their two practice sessions.
“What’s the best day of the year?” he asked them. “It’s not Christmas. It’s opening day of football.”
The Shenendehowa players realize this is going to be a special and unique season in that, for the first time, a man other than Steuerwald will be calling the shots. Steuerwald brought football to the Clifton Park school, and in a magnificant run from 1968 through last year, guided his teams to 318 wins and 11 Section II championships.
Shenendehowa reached the state semifinals last year, getting there with one of its greatest wins, a
13-10 double-overtime victory against North Rockland. The Plainsmen finished with an 11-1 record after a 16-6 loss to Newburgh Free Academy the following week.
“Coach [Clawson] likes to use the words ‘new era.’ It really is,” said Buss. “We were the last chapter for a legendary coach. We’re the first chapter for someone we hope is going to be a legendary coach. It’s cool. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Shenendehowa will have a lot of new starters this season, but not new faces on the varsity team. The Plainsmen graduated five defensive starters led by linebacker Brandon Miller, the Daily Gazette co-Defensive Player of the Year. Ten offensive starters have moved on, led by running back Tony Fusco, the Gazette’s Offensive Player of the Year who scored the last of his school-record 32 touchdowns to finish off North Rockland.
“Last year, we carried 46 and it was a split of juniors and seniors. We have a strong returning class of juniors who are now seniors,” said Clawson. “We’ve also got the group that went 8-1 and lost in the JV
Super Bowl. How quickly they make that transition, the better they’ll be. When we went up against LaSalle, Colonie, CBA and Troy at the Albany camp, we threw them right in there, they held their own.”
“Everybody thinks everybody left. We lost our quarterback [Teddy Van Galen] and we lost Fusco,” said Chris Miller. “We had so much depth last year. We lost a lot of senior leadership, but we have guys who can fill spots.”
“Our class hasn’t lost in the section since our freshman year,” said senior quarterback and safety Ryan Buss. “We know what it takes to win.”
The Plainsmen will attempt to do so with a mix of old and new.
“We’re going to have some of the old plays, but we’ve added some new ones, and for a quarterback, it’s a dream come true. You come up through the Shenendehowa program thinking run, run, run. We’re not going to be that way,” said Ryan Buss. “It’s going to give us an advantage.”
Shenendehowa ran 50 scripted plays as part of Monday’s morning session.
“Day one last year, we were working on techniques,” said Kyle Buss. “Day one this year, it felt like we were in the third week of practice. We’re definitely ahead of where we were last year.”
Shenendehowa opens its season Aug. 31 at Albany. The Plainsmen beat the Falcons, 48-0, last year as part of their sweep of the Class AA Empire Division.
“We’ll run the same offense, but with some wrinkles. We want to strive for balance,” said Clawson, who quarterbacked under the tutelage of his father, Barry, while starring at Johnstown. “Defensively, we’ll stay with our attack style. We like to blitz. On special teams, we’ll be looking to make the big play like we always do.”
Clawson is employing a philosophy embraced by Steuerwald of not asking players to win, but rather, to give a supreme effort at all times.
“I put together a power-point presentation, and this morning before we came out, we talked about expectations,” said Clawson, a four-year varsity assistant under Steuerwald and the school’s lead junior varsity coach for six years before that. “The goal is to be the best player they can be. Work and strive to be better every day in practice.”
Players got better last fall, and Shenendehowa turned in its best season in a decade which included a 49-6 Super Bowl rout of Columbia and five regular-season shutouts.
“Last year, we made it to the state semifinals. A lot of us were on that Kingston field. This year, our goal is to break down the door and get to the dome (Syracuse
University’s Carrier Dome, site of the state championships). We’ve got the skill. We’ve got to execute,” said Kyle Buss. “We have high expectations. We know what we cando. We’ve just got to stay together. Keep the circle.”