Schuyler Huntington soared in from his defensive end position twice to record quarterback sacks in his first varsity game against Colonie. His position may have changed as his varsity career progressed, but not his attacking style of play.
“He’s got what you call violent hands,” Shaker High School coach Greg Sheeler said of his two-way standout. “He’s hard to control. He’s very good at shedding a blocker and releasing from the offensive line.”
A defensive end as a sophomore and junior, Huntington moved inside to a tackle spot this season and emerged as the unquestioned leader of one of Section II’s most aggressive units. He consistently disrupted offensive lines, his teammates poured in behind and together they helped the Blue Bison make history with 10 straight wins and the school’s first area championship.
“A lot of our leaders had different roles,” said Sheeler. “Schuyler was more of an emotion guy. He gave us that.”
The Daily Gazette Defensive Player of the Year gave no quarter, and with his blend of speed and power consistently occupied multiple blockers and clogged up the works while making his share of tackles. His pursuit of quarterbacks was also relentless as he accounted for numerous hurried passes.
His work was particularly key when Shaker shut out Shenendehowa in the Section II Class AA final, 14-0, and when the Blue Bison stymied New Rochelle for much of the second half in a 28-21 state semifinal loss, a game he left exhausted and bloodied.
“He’s a real passionate kid. Every time he takes the field he wants to make a difference, and he gives it everything he’s got,” said Sheeler. “That’s what makes a defensive player great.”
Huntington was selected a Liberty Division first-team all-star for his defensive work as a sophomore and junior, and this year is amomg the candidates for the division’s best player on that side of the ball. All-state honors are all but certain for the 6-foot-3, 255-pound senior, as well as invitations to come aboard from a host of interested college coaches.
“We had been a 4-3 [defensive] team. This year, we moved to a 3-4 and wanted Schuyler to hold down the middle. When you’ve got a guy that talented, you know he is going to make plays,” said Sheeler. “He didn’t complain or anything like that. What’s best for the team is what he was most concerned about.”
Aside from the shutout against Shenendehowa, when Huntington recorded two of his seven sacks, Shaker also limited six other opponents to two touchdowns or less behind its defensive centerpiece. Huntington finished the season with 40 tackles.
“To be a good team, you’ve got to stop people. We had a real good group,” said Sheeler. “They were tough and aggressive, and that attitude translated to the offense.”
Huntington did his part there, too, as a two-year starting guard.
A pair of nose guards who effectively stuffed line play and also had their share of hits join Huntington on the Gazette defensive front in Vinnie DiBiase of Christian Brothers Academy and Alan Gaines of Shenendehowa. DiBiase made 53 tackles with six sacks as a second-year starter, and Gaines was in on 65 tackles as a second-year starter, but in a new position.
“We had a huge hole to fill with the graduation of [2011 Gazette first-teamer Cole] Lampman,” said Shenendehowa coach Brian Clawson. “We decided to move Alan from the edge to inside, and he was a force. Here’s a kid who benches 335 and he not only occupied people, he split double teams. It was a big change or him, and he was great for us.”
Schalmont end Mike Famolaro has added Gazette first-team laurels to his Class B West Defensive Player of the Year award after collecting 54 tackles, six sacks and two fumble recoveries.
“For a 275-pound kid, he’s strong, but also fast and extremely athletic,” said Sabres coach Joe Whipple. “You don’t see that combination very often at the high school level. The kid can really move.”
Each member of the Gazette linebacker group moved extremely well and closed down plays, with seniors Geo Rodriguez of Amsterdam and Andrew Antoinette of Guilderland both recording 108 tackles. Rodriguez also had four interceptions, and from his quarterback spot, generated 1,533 passing and rushing yards and 21 total touchdowns in leading the Rugged Rams to their second straight Class A title game. Rodriguez was selected the Northwest Division Player of the Year.
Antoinette had three sacks and forced as many fumbles, with his late strip ending a Ballston Spa drive in a 21-20 win.
“He has a nose for the ball inside. What makes him so good is that he can also chase down guys outside,” Guilderland coach Dan Penna said of the senior, a candidate for Empire Division Defensive Player of the Year honors. “He’s a super hitter, and several times he got our ‘Hit of the Game’ award.”
Chris Miller topped Shenendehowa with 95 tackles to go with three sacks. The linebacker’s exploits helped the Plainsmen post four shutouts and capture the Class AA Empire Division title.
“He’d fly around at 110 miles an hour and create havoc,” Clawson said of the two-year starter.
Troy linebacker Nick Valenti made 51 solo stops among his 79 tackles and picked off three passes, his first coming in the season opener when the Flying Horses upset Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake, 17-7. Valenti was tabbed the Class A Southeast Player of the Year after being named the division’s best defensive performer in 2011.
Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake senior Eric Dillon is a repeat selection to the Gazette All-Area secondary, and is coupled with Kyle Buss of Shenendehowa and Gabe Smith of LaSalle.
“He has five or six interceptions. He’s a big hitter and a real good cover corner. He’s come up with big catches for us,” Burnt Hills coach Matt Shell said of Dillon, the Northwest Division All-Purpose Player of the Year. “He’s a big play kid.”
Dillon intercepted a pass in Friday’s 28-13 state semifinal win over Cornwall, and blocked a punt and returned it for one of his three touchdowns the week before in a 42-0 regional win against Potsdam.
Buss’ five interceptions and 35 tackles were only part of his sensational senior season in which he piled up seven touchdowns and 771 all-purpose yards (350 receiving, 204 rushing, 217 on returns). As an exclamation mark, he caught a tie-breaking 40-yard touchdown pass from Schenectady’s Kwame Jarvis and then picked off a pass in the North’s 28-21 win over the South in the Section II senior all-star game.
Smith returned one of his five interceptions 67 yards late in the fourth quarter, and then hauled in a 25-yard touchdown pass to lift LaSalle to a 14-7 upset win over Troy. His highlight reel-filling senior season included seven touchdown plays, including as 90-yard kickoff return against Colonie and a 94-yard reception against Columbia.
Two-time Gazette first team punter Corey Acker provided Shenendehowa with numerous impact plays before and after his booming kicks. The senior made 40 tackles and intercepted a pair of passes, and amassed 1,061 all-purpose yards (644 rushing, 143 receiving, 274 on returns). Four of his 11 touchdowns came in a 34-12 sectional semifinal win over Columbia, when he scored on runs of 76 and 64 yards and on a 45-yard reception.
“He made his money making people miss,” Clawson said.