will again be toting the football plenty this fall for reigning Section II Class B champion Schalmont. He’ll be launching from a different position, though.
Just last week, Schalmont coach Joe Whipple handed Willis the keys to the offense, making him the team’s fourth different starting quarterback in four years.
Willis showed flashes of things to come with some strong efforts as a freshman backup, and last season was selected an all-state first-team running back after piling up 1,588 yards and scoring 19 touchdowns.
He was the only sophomore on offense or defense named to the Daily Gazette All-Area first team.
“I told him the third day at the Union College camp that I wanted
to put him in there. At first, he didn’t want to do it,” Whipple said Thursday as Willis and teammates went over passing plays on a field behind the high school. “I told him having the ball in his hands every single play could lead to a big play, and he said fine.
“In our first scrimmage with Niskayuna, Schenectady and
Columbia, he lit it up.”
“Coach gave me a shot at the Union camp, and I kind of liked it,” said Willis. “I didn’t think I would.”
Whipple made a similar move during the 2009 season when he shifted Vinny Gallo from tailback to quarterback, and Gallo set a Section II record for quarterbacks with 2,402 rushing yards while scoring 31 touchdowns. He also picked up 567 passing yards.
“There’s a little more pressure on me now moving from running back to quarterback,” said the 6-foot,
180-pound Willis. “There’s more responsibility. I always had a little bit of an arm, so I think I will be OK with that. The hardest part is knowing defenses and finding your receivers. I’ve got to read things. And the timing of everything.”
In Willis, Schalmont has a superb athlete at the quarterback position. He turned in some of the best triple jump and high jump performances in Section II last spring as a member of the Sabres’ track and field team. With his outstanding speed and elusive moves, he ran for over 100 yards nine times last football season, including 256 when Schalmont beat Albany Academy in the Class B title game. His two-point conversion run in overtime gave Schalmont that win, 36-35.
“I’m a little nervous, but I’ve
always been really, really confident,” said last year’s Class B West Division Offensive Player of the Year. “If we all give 100 percent, it should be a good outcome.”
Schalmont won West Division, Section II and regional championships in each of the last three years with Gallo, Joe Paskevich (2010) and Nico Nicoletti (2011) directing the offense. The Sabres also won a state semifinal game with Paskevich before their finest season (12-1) ended with a loss to Hornell at the Syracuse Carrier Dome.
“All of my thoughts are to get us to the dome,” said Willis. “Whatever the outcome, if we give it our best, we’ll walk out with our heads up.”
Sophomore Nick Gallo will be another top threat for Schalmont at either tailback or wingback. Gallo was a defensive standout last year as a linebacker, and saw limited
“We’ve got guys all around him [Willis] who are going to get a bunch of yards, and that’s because of these guys here,” Whipple said of his offensive line group that includes returning starters Mike Famolaro, Jesse Ross, Tyler Mattick and Marcus Ramundo. “This is the most talented group we’ve had. The only thing that is going to beat us is ourselves.”
Schalmont has won 28 straight games against Section II competition, and 18 consecutive West Division contests. The Sabres open their season at home Aug. 31 against West Division newcomer Glens Falls, which has dropped down from Class A to B, and travel to Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake the following week for a non-league clash. Burnt Hills has won five of the last six Class A titles, including four in a row.