For the last several years, Brian Grastorf has been filling the role of both football coach and recruiter at Niskayuna High School, and Monday he got to see some of the results of his labor.
His first varsity team, though not quite as large as he had hoped, includes many young men who also play sports in the winter and spring seasons.
“The positive thing is a lot of them play [multiple] sports,” said Grastorf, who has taken over for John Furey after leading Niskayuna’s junior varsity in 2016. “A lot of them played other sports over the summer and we didn’t have them for all of the things we did, but we got them here for us.”
The fall high school sports season began around the region and state Monday, with several Section II programs starting their first season under new head coaches, such as Niskayuna with Grastorf. The 2006 Niskayuna graduate played scholastic football, basketball and baseball, and went on to Ithaca College, where he competed in football and baseball.
“I loved football, and when it was over, I couldn’t wait to play basketball. Then I couldn’t wait to play baseball,” the 29-year-old Niskayuna physical education teacher said. “I try to tell them all the time to get their buddies playing. I tell them to enjoy playing high school sports. It only comes around once. Take advantage of your opportunities.”
With its junior-heavy cast of 35, Niskayuna has an opportunity to do something it hasn’t done since the 2013 season, and that’s have some success at the Class AA level. The Silver Warriors played as a Class A independent in 2014 and 2015, and rejoined the Class AA ranks in 2016. That edition had 20 healthy players at the end of a winless campaign.
“This team reminds me of when I played,” said Grastorf, who played quarterback at Niskayuna from 2003 to 2005. “We’re not going to overpower people because of our size across the line, but we have good athletes. We have good size at receiver and some good running backs. We want to get the ball to our athletes in space and let them be athletes.”
Replacing a legend
Like Grastorf, Broadalbin-Perth boys’ soccer head coach Billy Eipp is replacing a coach long associated with a program. While Furey coached for more than two decades at Niskayuna, Brian Henry led the Patriots for 15 years, and won a Class B state title in 2011.
Eipp’s been around the Patriots for a bit, too, starting with the program as a coach in 2007. A graduate of Northville High School who later played men’s soccer at Saint Rose, Eipp said his experience from the past decade has him excited to take the Broadalbin-Perth program’s reins.
“[I’m] very confident taking the program from where it was, where Brian had it, and moving it forward — only because I worked so closely with Brian,” Eipp said.
As much as Eipp, 48, wants to continue the success of a program that was ranked No. 1 in the state before losing in sectionals last year, he’s also got some changes in mind. The playing style he prefers is different from the one Henry employed, and part of the preseason’s challenge is making sure his players are willing to adapt.
But the biggest change Eipp is making? While his predecessor was known for his habit of sucking on a Tootsie Pop — or several — to calm his nerves during games, Eipp said he’s unlikely to continue that tradition.
“Maybe I’ll do Charms Blow Pops instead,” he joked.
Kelsey Hart’s waited for this chance. Gave up her own playing career to work toward earning it, too.
Hart, 28, is the new girls’ volleyball head coach at Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons, a program that Bob Verhayden led for eight successful seasons. Hart — a Schalmont alumna — started as ND-BG’s JV coach nearly a decade ago, as she opted to take the coaching job rather than play herself at SUNY Cobleskill.
Facing a daily commute from Cobleskill to Schenectady was the hardest part of making that choice. But Hart always wanted to coach.
“It was tough,” said Hart, who played women’s volleyball at Hudson Valley Community College before attending SUNY Cobleskill. “But, thankfully, I had a good car.”
At the JV level, Hart focused on teaching fundamentals. Now with the varsity gig, she’s excited for the opportunity to coach in more meaningful matches.
“It’s a completely different game than the JV level,” Hart said.
She said she’s ready for the challenge. Verhayden, she said, told her she’s ready for it.
“And, hopefully, I am,” Hart said. “We’ll find out.”
Making the switch
Clint DeMyer, 22 years old and just a few months removed from graduating from college, was excited enough to get going Monday morning in his new role as girls’ soccer head coach at Mohonasen.
Then, DeMyer watched his players go through a couple drills like a championship was already at stake.
“These girls,” DeMyer said, “they compete.”
DeMyer, a Mohonasen and University at Albany graduate, was Mohonasen’s JV boys’ soccer coach the past two seasons. While he had never previously coached a female team, he jumped at the opportunity to take over Mohonasen’s program.
“There was no hesitation,” DeMyer said. “The chance to work with these players is a dream.”
Mohonasen won a share of its first-ever Section II Class A title last year, and returns star players such as seniors Lexi Canavally and Milan Pfister. DeMyer replaces Vito Urbano, who left Mohonasen to return to coach his alma mater’s boys’ soccer team at Schalmont.
DeMyer likes his team’s mix of talent. He loves his players’ attitudes.
“They want to be better,” DeMyer said. “They want to challenge each other to become better.”
Craig Cavotta returned Monday to the Mechanicville football field where he not only played, but grew as a young man.
“I've lived here my whole life, and football was a huge guide for me," the Red Raiders’ new varsity coach said before his first practice. “Football taught me many lessons I still follow today. To have an opportunity to pass on some of those things to this community, it’s fantastic.”
Cavotta has inherited a Mechanicville team that went 7-3 last season and reached its first Section II championship game since 2004 under interim head coach Erik Smith. Kevin Collins led the Mechanicville varsity for 11 years before, with eight of his teams posting winning records.
“I'm excited,” said Cavotta, who graduated from Mechanicville in 1998, “but there’s definitely some pressure.”
Cavotta spent the last 13 years at Columbia, and served as the Blue Devils varsity football coach over the final six. His resume includes a Section II Super Bowl appearance in 2011 and five playoff berths.
“They know what our expectations are,” Cavotta said. “They are aware. It’s going to be tough.”
Mechanicville has proven talent with quarterback Dan Motta and all-state lineman Cody Hayner leading the veterans, but also has holes to fill.
“We've got some things to work out,” Cavotta said. “We’ve got pieces coming back, but we need some younger guys to step in and fill roles. There are a lot of opportunities for guys.”