Brian Clawson addressed his Shenendehowa football team at the 10-yard line following Saturday’s scrimmage with Union-Endicott at Steuerwald Stadium. In the hours before, the Plainsmen were crisp when they had the ball and stingy when they didn’t.
“We have something special here,” was the first thing the high school’s third-year coach said to his troops.
This could be one of those special seasons. Clawson not only has a veteran cast, but also an eager one looking to make amends after their 2013 playoff run hit a sudden stop.
“After losing to Shaker in the quarterfinals, it left a bad taste in our mouth,” said senior quarterback Ryan Van Galen. “We want to come out and do our thing this year.”
That two-fold thing would be a big jump in the Class AA Empire Division after last year’s fourth-place showing, and strong a postseason.
“We have a lot of seniors who experienced a Week 9 game with no chance to move on,” line coach Mark McQuade said of a 40-28 crossover win against LaSalle that left the Plainsmen 6-3. “We don’t want to be in that situation. We want to play for something in Week 9.”
Van Galen, who took half of the snaps last year, knows what it will take to get there.
“Definitely bring it to the practice field 110 percent,” he said. “Study film. Play every play like it’s our last play.”
Shenendehowa’s bid for a fourth straight Super Bowl berth ended on a dramatic play with seconds to go, when Shaker’s Patrick Hoey blocked a field-goal attempt to preserve Shaker’s 23-21 lead in the sectional quarterfinals. Shenendehowa trailed in that game, 14-0 and 20-7, before rallying in the back-and-forth thriller.
“The blocked field goal against Shaker in the last few seconds, we definitely have that in the back of our head,” said Van Galen.
Clawson has been drilling something else into their heads.
“We do have high expectations of achievement,” said Clawson, whose 2012 edition lost to Shaker in the Super Bowl after coach Brent Steuerwald’s 2011 squad had won it against Columbia. “It’s all about continual and constant improvement. Getting better every day. It’s a process of film, getting critiqued, working on things.”
Clawson has 26 seniors on his 46-player roster led by fullback/linebacker Oliver Robinson, tailback/safety Matt Taft and tight end/defensive end Erik Kromer. Robinson and Taft shared Shenendehowa’s touchdown lead with eight apiece.
“We have 12 starters back. Last year, we had two [Robinson, Kromer]. It makes a world of difference,” said Clawson. “They’ve been in the wars. They’ve been in the big games.”
McQuade is expecting big things from his offensive line group that features returning starters Dan Busold, Warren Shaw and Theo Slepski, 2013 letter-winners Joe Enos and Justice Honsinger, and junior varsity graduate Luke Mysliwy.
“When you have a returning nucleus, you can fine-tune things. Change blocking schemes,” McQuade said. “The game was fast for them last year and things were hard to handle. They won’t be making some of the mistakes they made.”
Shenendehowa also has seniors Brendan Marra, Willy Stevenson, Jordan Zlogar and Matt Dillon back to catch and defend.
“We could have had eight to 10 captains because we have such great leadership,” said Clawson. “They’ll all lead in their own way.”
Two-way end Michael Gillooley is another promising newcomer.
“We feel we have a lot of pieces. We want to build on it every day,” said Robinson. “If we do, I think we can do some great things.”
Christian Brothers Academy played some great football after a Week 2 loss to Shenendehowa, winning eight straight, capped by its first Super Bowl victory since 2006 against Shaker.
“We’ve got a lot of players who understand the game and what our expectations are,” said CBA safety Don Vivian. “One of our goals is to make it back. It is definitely high on the list.”
Center J.J. Smith is back for the Empire champs, and Ben Anthony, Austin Ellis, Nasir Tune, Jaylen McIntyre and Josh Wynn give the Brothers offensive options for returning QB Joe Kolbe to work with.
The league has several other veteran quarterbacks in Matt Woods of Shaker, Brandon Gwinner of Schenectady, Will McCann of Colonie and Troy transfer Joe Germinerio of LaSalle, who’ll lead their teams in the wide-open Liberty Division.
“The first couple of games, you have nerves. You get through a couple and you relax,” said Gwinner, who’ll operate in Schenectady’s new spread offense. “A year under the belt definitely helps as a quarterback.”
Bethlehem has plans to factor in the Liberty race despite losing key offensive figures (Mike Graves, Jason Clas) like CBA (Elliott Croskey), Schenectady (Felix Rodriguez), Guilderland (Frank Gallo), Saratoga Springs (Jake Eglintine, Dakota Harvey) and Columbia (Connor Kinzelmann) did. The division newcomer will play its home games on the road, two at Union College and another at UAlbany, due to renovations at Bethlehem.
“We lost three of our best players. That being said, we have a lot back,” said Eagles coach Rick Leach, who has former tight end and standout lacrosse goalie Dan Comber sliding into the QB role. “This [senior] group has had success, and our JV team was good. We’re optimistic.”
Shaker will look to build on its back-to-back Liberty titles with new faces and a good nucleus of 2013 contributors, including runner Michael Tanu, lineman Ryan Eustace and kicker Will Halpin.
s-g joins class a
Scotia-Glenville has small numbers but ambitious goals, eyeing a third straight winning season and postseason success which it hasn’t enjoyed since 1999.
“What’s the saying? On any given Sunday,” said Tartans coach Kevin Warren. “If they play their game, they can have success.”
Scotia-Glenville went 6-3 last year as a Class B member and 6-3 in 2012 as a Class A member, and both campaigns included a Section II quarterfinal loss. The Tartans haven’t put together three consecutive winning seasons since 1994-96.
“We’ve had two great seasons,” said Warren. “We’ve got to stay healthy if we’re going to have another one. I’ve got 23 kids.”
The group is led by three-year starting quarterback Dan Zeglen, the Class B co-Player of the Year, who will be coupled with returning scatback Marty McCollum and veteran receivers John Clark and Mike Mushaw. Linemen Shannon Smith and Ryan Bellamy and linebacker Angelo Coppola are back, too.
“This is probably the best team I’ve had, as far as preseason work and commitment,” said Warren. “They knew they needed to be in great shape because guys are going to go both ways. We’ll give kids a rest when we can.”
Scotia-Glenville is in the Northwest Division that includes the last two state Class A champions, Queensbury and Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake. Those two teams scrimmaged Saturday in a rematch from the 2013 Class A Super Bowl. Queensbury won that game late to end BH-BL’s title run at five.
“They didn’t lose a lot. They’re not as big, but they’re quick and physical and they’ve got skill guys back,” BH-BL running back/linebacker Danny Maynard said of Queensbury, which went 13-0 last year. “We learned a lot from that scrimmage. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Maynard, running back Tyler Dowdle, quarterback John Clayton and ends Packy Brown and Max Charlton are all back to lead the BH-BL offense, and its entire secondary returns.
Queensbury has back, among others, Erik Wettersten, Brett Rodriguez and Chris Goudy, who scored touchdowns in its 36-7 state title-game win over Williamsville North.
“Us and Queensbury, we’ll have to battle hard for the the No. 1 seed. There are no easy games,” said Maynard. “Nothing is guaranteed.”
Four-year-old Green Tech has moved up from Class B and joins the Northwest after its best season, which included a playoff berth.
“We’re thinking playoffs again,” said running back/safety Rasean Joseph. “We’ve got to work harder. We’ve got to work as a team. We have to trust each other.”
hurteau leads troy
The new large-school coaches are Eric Rouleau at Colonie and Mike Hurteau at Troy, where he helped the Flying Horses win state championships in 1996 and 1998 under Jack Burger.
“If it’s not broke, why fix it,” said Hurteau, Troy’s JV coach the last six seasons. “We’re not going to change a lot. I’m a disciple of Jack Burger, and we’re going to play smart, keep it simple and get after it.”
The Flying Horses will be defending their Southeast Division title in an expanded field, with Lansingburgh moving up from Class B and Amsterdam coming over from the Class A Northwest to join Averill Park, Bishop Maginn and Mohonasen.
“We know a lot of people think we’re going to stink,” said Mohonasen junior quarterback/safety Nate Stillson. “We have each other, and if we play as a unit, I think we can win some games.”
Bishop Maginn coach Joe Grasso is three wins shy of 200, and his Golden Grifffins appear poised to fly past that mark with their eight returning starters on both sides led by quarterback Neiko Bianchino and and fourth-year lineman Omar Johnson. No Class A team has more, though Averill Park boasts seven defenders who started in 2013, led by Mike Ainsley, Ryan Garret and Pat Wellington.
“We’ve got a good group back. A lot of second- and third-year guys,” said Grasso, whose team managed one win in each of the last two seasons. “Our goal is to finish in the top half of the league and make some noise in the sectionals.”
“Bishop Maginn has good skill kids and they’re physical up front, but you’ve always got to talk about Troy,” said Lansingburgh coach Jeff Pasinella. “Troy is Troy.”
Amsterdam was stuck behind Queensbury and Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake last year in the Northwest.
“We stay away from Burnt Hills and Queensbury, but we played Averill Park and Troy last year in crossovers,” said Amsterdam coach Doug Edick. “We know what we’re up against. It’s a good division.”
Edick thinks his team will score big points like last year with Bryan Stanavich, Marcus Pritchard and new starting quarterback Tony Isabel. The Rams gave up plenty of points, too.
“We’ve got to stop people. We’ve got to run to the ball and tackle people,” Edick said. “Our defense was not good last year. That’s our No. 1 priority.”
Niskayuna requested from Section II and was granted a drop from Class AA to Class A for a year because of its small senior group that consists of three players, and of them, only David Dare saw significant action on last year’s 2-7 team.
“So many kids are deciding to play one sport, and that creates a challenge,” said Niskayuna coach John Furey. “There are a lot of things we’re building here on the lower levels. We’re working hard to re-establish relationships with younger players.”
Niskayuna does have 19 juniors to build with, including quarterback Jake Shephard.
The Silver Warriors are playing a non-league schedule and are playoff-ineligible. Not too long ago, from 2008-10, Niskayuna reached consecutive sectional semifinals.