SCHENECTADY -- It was hard to get a good read the Tri-City Spartans before the 2018 season, since they were a hodgepodge of players from around the semi-pro ranks coming together in the Empire Football League debut for the franchise.
That's still the case in 2019, but with a season under their belts and an extra set of eyes on the sideline in the form of Jacob Hobbs, Tri-City has reasonable visions of chasing a championship in the six-team EFL.
One characteristic the Spartans bring from last season is a Schenectady-heavy identity that is reflected and reinforced through Hobbs, who comes to the team in what he describes as a player-coach role that will lean more toward the coaching side.
A 2002 Schenectady High graduate who converted from defensive line to offensive line while playing at UAlbany, Hobbs played preseason games for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2007 and had a rookie tryout during mini-camp with the New York Giants in 2008 before moving on to an Arena Football League career that included an ArenaBowl title with the Jacksonville Sharks.
"We're trying to provide something for Schenectady, to give kids an avenue to stay off the streets, to keep them out of trouble," Hobbs said. "They can take part in something and have pride and say, 'Hey, I established this program. I built this program from the ground up.' It's only our second year. So anybody who has their hands on this now is basically a co-founder."
"He's got the knowledge," head coach Darrin Earing Sr. said.
The Spartans open the season July 13 at Glens Falls and will play their 7 p.m. home opener at Larry Mulvaney Field against Watertown on July 20.
Earing said he expects Tri-City to have a solid running game, based on the 1-2 punch of Kirieme Pitts and Lawrence Elliott behind a line that will have more cohesion now, backed by the coaching of Hobbs.
"Actually, we look really good," Earing said. "A couple guys left, but a lot of guys are back. With Kirieme Pitts and the addition of Lawrence Elliott, it brings our backs up to whole different lineup. With the experienced linemen that we now have, our running game should be real strong."
The Spartans put together a winning streak at the end of last season that ended when they lost 9-7 to Hudson Valley in the semifinals of the playoffs.
Hudson Valley went on to win the championship, then moved from the EFL to a different league downstate for this season. Besides Tri-City, Glens Falls and Watertown, the EFL includes Plattsburgh, Mohawk Valley and Seaway Valley.
Tri-City owner Mark Capano said the team has signed 65 players for this season, up from 55 last year, a good sign that the Spartans are gaining a better foothold in the EFL.
Hobbs sees a bigger purpose than just playing football, too.
"It's something we want to take pride in and be around for a long run," he said. "We see teams like Troy, who have been around for a number of years. Glens Falls. A lot of us played for the Albany [Metro] Mallers, who were national champions, and we want to bring that glory to Schenectady.
"Schenectady has a lot of athletes, but unfortunately after high school, they don't get a chance to showcase any of their ability. It gives them something else to do on a Saturday night, as opposed to being out on the streets, getting yourself in trouble. That's what we're trying to do, get guys coming out of high school who don't have a lot going on, whether it be for grades or whatever reason ... come on in and be a part of something special."
Home games in CAPS
7/13 -- at Glens Falls; 7/20 -- WATERTOWN; 7/27 -- MOHAWK VALLEY; 8/3 -- at Seaway Valley; 8/10 -- PLATTSBURGH; 8/17 -- GLENS FALLS; 8/24 -- at Watertown; 9/7 -- at Mohawk Valley; 9/14 -- SEAWAY VALLEY; 9/21 -- at Plattsburgh.