BURNT HILLS — Though Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake graduated its entire starting backfield, head football coach Matt Shell's level of concern isn't as high as you might think.
He has a returning cast of young men who didn't handle the ball all that much, but saw plenty of action during last year's push toward the state Class A semifinals.
"They're not new to playing fast and playing physical," Shell said Thursday while his three-time defending Section II champions went through their practice paces. "We'll be fine."
New first-string quarterback Ryan Salisbury believes that, too. Salisbury backed up signal caller Darien LaPietro in 2018 and, like many of the guys Shell will be calling on to handle the rock, saw significant time on the defensive side.
"I have a lot of confidence in this team," Salisbury, a rising senior, said. "I've had faith in these guys since JV. That level hasn't gone down."
Salisbury started at defensive safety as a junior while filling in for and learning from LaPietro, who started at quarterback in each of the last three championship seasons.
"Experience is a huge thing," Salisbury said. "To carry that knowledge into this year is a big thing."
Burnt Hills lost running backs Vincent Daviero, another three-year starter and a 2018 all-state first-team pick, and DJ Lashley, as well as LaPietro. Wingback Bryce Mussen and fullback Jakai Townsend also graduated from the 9-2 team.
Daviero led Section II with 1,549 rushing yards a year ago and scored 23 touchdowns. Two of those came in the Section II final, and Townsend also scored, when the Spartans topped Queensbury 21-16.
Quarterback Joseph Girard III of Glens Falls, receiver Richie Quinn of Niskayuna, running back Liam O'Mara of Queensbury and quarterback Donovan Pacatte of Cobleskill-Richmondville are among the other star offensive players from Section II that have moved on.
"We lost a lot of yards and a lot of touchdowns," Shell said. "I do expect the guys we have in there to run the ball hard and make plays."
Shell was referring to guys like rising junior Caeden LaPietro and rising seniors Ty McHerron and Sam Gardy, whose value lied more on the defensive side last year.
"They are new as running backs but not new to playing. We still have experienced kids. They're going to run the ball," Shell said. "They haven't had to take handoffs, but that's something they all learned in pee wee football. What you can't replicate is game experience on that side."
Matt Seidel saw offensive action as a starting guard last year as a junior. This year, he'll be in the backfield mix.
"He expressed to me that he wanted to run the ball last year, but we had a spot that needed to be filled," Shell said. "He sacrificed for the team, and he ended up being an all-league lineman. This year, he'll get a chance to run the ball."
"We're new, in a way, to the team," Salisbury said.
Burnt Hills has only one starting lineman back in rising sophomore Victor Little. Joining him, among others, will be rising senior Justis Warren, who started on the defensive side last year. Rising senior Dillon Bohlke returns at tight end.
"We've got to find six or seven kids," Shell said of the offensive line. "We've got five right now."
Salisbury is anxious to set up behind that group.
"I am looking to serve as a role model, and lead this team to wins," Salisbury said.
"He is very athletic and he is smart. He understands what we want to do," Shell said of Salisbury. "He is not new to playing, and he has played at a high level."
Despite holes to fill on defense, too, Shell remains optimistic about his teams' future. Daviero and Mussen, the 2018 Daily Gazette Defensive Player of the Year, anchored that side as hard-hitting linebackers.
"We've got good size. We've got good kids," said Shell, who reached 150 coaching wins when Burnt Hills claimed the Super bowl title. "They had a good summer and they're in good shape. That will translate to the field. We'll be all right."