Mark Cerrone had the jitters Monday afternoon as his first practice with the Schenectady football team drew near.
“It was about ten of two, and I was sitting in the office with the other coaches. I was all right, but a little nervous, a little hesitant,” said the Patriots’ new head coach. “Once we got here, on this field, it was all good. It was like, ‘OK, let’s go.’ ”
Schenectady’s first practice session of the 2013 season began with a series of defensive drills.
“We started the first day of a new era with defense. That was my decision,” Cerrone said after a two-hour workout at Larry Mulvaney Field. “That’s where I’m most comfortable.”
Cerrone was Schenectady’s defensive coordinator under Jim Kramer the last four years, and the two before that under Carm DePoalo.
The 35-year-old was tabbed the Patriots’ newest varsity coach late last month when Kramer accepted the offensive coordinator position at Utica College.
“You can tell he’s excited to lead us, and we feel we can do awesome with him,” said Schenectady senior Amir Graham, a defensive end. “Everyone on the team has their own talents, and if we can bring it together, we can make something big of it.”
Schenectady did a lot of big things over the last six seasons, with a postseason berth each time. The 2008 team won a program-record eight games and reached the Section II Class AA Super Bowl. Last year’s team won six games and came within a touchdown of another Super Bowl appearance.
“There’s a desire to be great here. There are expectations here. I feel it. That’s OK,” said Cerrone. “It’s my turn, and I’m excited about leading this team. No one else is going to put more pressure on me than me to see the program continue.”
“I have a lot faith in him,” said Schenectady senior Felix Rodriguez, a 2012 Daily Gazette All-Area first-team end. “He knows how to motivate us. He’s good at getting people pumped up. He knows how to get things done.”
Cerrone will be leading a mix of new varsity players, established veterans and some backups from last year who are looking to make an impact. Junior quarterback Brandon Gwinner is among them, now that record-setting passer Kwame Jarvis has moved on to Milford Academy.
“It’s going to be fun. I’m looking forward to it,” Gwinner said. “I’m going to try to do what coach says. Work hard, stay dedicated, don’t be scared and try to help the team win.”
Schenectady went 19-17 under Kramer and 13-6 with DePoalo. The Patriots never had a winning season before those two coaches came along in an often difficult stretch going back to 1988.
“I definitely expect a lot from this team,” said Rodriguez. “We need teammwork, dedication, committment. All of the things coach talks about. We need a little of everything, from the guys who have been here before down to the first-year players.”
Cerrone called Monday an important tone-setter for the season.
“We have to strive to be perfect with every rep we do and every drill we do. You do that by having the right attitude,” he said. “Today was about establishing that attitude. Coming out and understanding we’re playing the greatest game there is, being excited about it.”
The Cerrone era began in earnest two weeks ago at the Union College camp.
“That was my first shot. That was a good learning experience for the kids, and for me,” he said. “It was a chance for me to get comfortable with the offense and get comfortable organizing everything. It made planning for this a lot easier.”
Cerrone didn’t take it easy on his 35 varsity players Monday.
“When I first started, I played mostly defense, and he was my main coach. He likes to keep the pace going,” said Pats senior two-way tackle Justin Richards. “He likes it fast-paced, and that’s how it went today. He’s a little more intense [than Kramer].”
“I told them before we started today to get on board or hit the road, and when we finished up, none of them took a left and headed for the parking lot. They all took a right and headed to the lockerroom. That was good to see,” said Cerrone. “I was very happy with the pace. The speed was good. The returning guys know what they have to do and the new kids are learning fast. They’re taking direction from the coaches and responding. Our first session was evident of that.
“Good team workout. You want to start that way,” Richards said. “It flowed well.”
Schenectady opens its season Sept. 6 against Fayetteville-Manlius at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse.