The high point of Schenectady’s 2011 football season came in consecutive weeks, when the Patriots held off Shaker for one victory and rallied past Niskayuna for another.
A follow-up loss to LaSalle cost the Patriots a home playoff game, a setback at Christian Brothers Academy ended their sectional bid and another defeat against Saratoga Springs in a crossover game ended what had the potential to be a fine season.
“We had opportunities. This year, we want to be solid,” senior lineman Tyler DePasquale said Tuesday during a break from preseason practice. “We don’t want to have any ups and downs. Just keep climbing the mountain.”
The Patriots have big plans this season, bigger than making the Section II Class AA tournament for the sixth consecutive year.
“We’ve been on a nice stretch, but there’s a difference between making the playoffs and succeeding in the playoffs,” said Schenectady coach Jim Kramer. “You have a better chance of winning on your home field.”
The numbers agree. Schenectady has won all three of its home playoff games since 2008 when it reached the Class AA Super Bowl for the only time, while dropping four postseason games away from Larry Mulvaney Field during that span. Kramer has been stressing that point to his team of 38, many of them holdovers from last year’s 3-6 squad.
“We’ve got our goals set. That’s what’s driving us,” said DePasquale, a tackle and defensive end who’ll be starting for the third season. “We want to win our division [Class AA Liberty]. We want to be home for the playoffs and get to the Super Bowl.
“We can do it although we have a tough schedule. It’s going to take a lot of coming together as one, and being a hard-nosed football team.”
“We’ve got a large group of returning guys who are ready to show they’re ready to take the next step,” said Kramer.
After dealing Shaker its first division loss (21-19) and overhauling Niskayuna in overtime (35-34), Schenectady bowed to LaSalle (39-13) to conclude regular season play. That setback left the Patriots with the division’s No. 3 playoff seed and a trip to CBA. A win would have had the Patriots at No. 2 and home.
“Last year, we were in a solid position in Week 7, and we didn’t take advantage of it,” said Kramer. “This year, we want to seize the opportunity. Our division is going to be tough, no question, but our group has worked hard in the offseason in preparation for this. From here, our goal is to improve every day.”
Schenectady had some good days leading up the Monday’s first official practice. The Patriots preformed well at the Union College camp, and won seven-on-seven tournaments at Utica and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute behind quarterback Kwame Jarvis.
Jarvis had mixed results last season as a first-year varsity starter. Among his shining moments was a late touchdown pass in a 14-7 season-opening win against Colonie, and a game-winning touchdown run against Niskayuna.
“I thought Kwame took a big step when he got intercepted against Niskayuna and we lost the lead. In the last few minutes he made some huge plays, and we won in overtime,” Kramer said. “He could have folded down the stretch. Instead, he showed something inside.”
Jarvis will be surrounded by a large cast that saw significant action last year, including Felix Rodriguez, Trent Wheeler, Javar Tillman, Hassan Rainey, Jeremy Kent, Alex Phann, DeShawn Kunath, Justin Richards and Josh Sayles.
“We bring back a lot. We bring back a lot of talent. We have guys who have played varsity games in key spots,” said Kramer. “It’s nice to come in with a core group. You always start at square one, but it can be a brief stop, and then you can keep adding things.”
“It’s huge to have so many guys back. We’ve all played together and been through the highs and lows,” said DePasquale, a Daily Gazette All-Area first team lineman. “We’ve all been waiting for this.”
DePasquale will be joined by Sayles and Richards on what could be Schenectady’s finest offenive line in several years. Rodriguez, a Liberty Division first team all-star, leads the running backs.
“The steps we’re making up front, it’s getting us excited,” said Kramer. “We know we have guys who can make plays if they have some room to operate.”
Schenectady opens its season Aug. 31 at home against Columbia, the reigning Liberty Division champion and last year’s Class AA runner-up to Shenendehowa.