POTSDAM Jim Kirka had no idea during the first day of football practice that senior Aaron Chandler would emerge as his top offensive lineman this season.
Kirka, Potsdam High Schools football coach, knew Chandler had good size, but he also knew that the 6-foot-3, 260-pounder was only in his third year playing the sport competitively.
He worked hard and I tell all the kids if they work hard theyve got a chance to play, Kirka said. I knew he was going to come in and do a decent job. We started getting in games against bigger linemen and I knew he was able to handle the task. You never know for sure what a kid can do when they go against great competition.
There will be no greater competition for Chandler and the Sandstoners (8-0 overall) than tonights Northern Athletic Conference Tier I title game against Malone, which begins at 7 p.m. at Potsdam High School.
Potsdam edged the Huskies 35-27 in a home game in the third week of the regular season.
I love facing (Malone) because its always a big struggle, Chandler said. My overall favorite team to face is Malone. They have a great, amazing quarterback (Mitchell Gallagher) and their line is good. They have a very solid team. You have to be on your game the whole time. You cant make mistakes, have to be 100 percent through the whole game.
Regardless of what happens tonight Potsdam will have a game for a spot in the state playoffs next Friday night at home against Massena. But that doesnt lessen the importance of this game for Chandler.
Its not a do-or-die, but its something we owe to ourselves, Chandler said. Its something we want to work for. Its very important to us. I wanted to leave (as a senior) with the section championship. Its something I need to do. Its my last time facing this team and I want to go out with a bang and just play my heart out in this game.
Im going to miss this place. The coaches are great. The teammates are great.
It is only Chandlers third year of football, but its evident that the sport has grown on him and become a passion and even life-changing. While he focuses on his final season hes also beginning to talk with colleges, including St. Lawrence University, about playing the game at that level next fall.
Hes very consistent, thats the big thing, Kirka said. He understands what he needs to do and hes smart. You dont have to tell him 10 times what to do. He picks up on it. For never playing the game, hes really done a great job of picking it up.
Chandler is a tackle on offense and plays end when the Sandstoners are on defense.
Im safer playing offensive line, but I love playing defensive line just for the tackling and the pure aggression that goes into it, Chandler said. Im more confident in the offensive role.
There are no real stats for a high school offensive lineman, but when Chandler sees how many running backs on his team rushed for 100 or more yards in a game, he knows that he and the rest of the linemen performed well.
They couldnt do that without the line, Chandler said. Im pleased to see (a running back) is getting 100 yards because of the line. If we are doing our job, they are going to get those stats. We have one of the best lines and Im proud to be part of that line. We give our running backs these stats.
Success hasnt made Chandler cocky or arrogant, he still has a desire to continue learning and he hopes to do that even more next year in college.
Ive been looking at SLU and talking to them a little bit, Chandler said. Id be really interested to go there. Id love to play in college. It would be an amazing experience. I just love this game so much. Its become such a big part of my life, that I just dont see it ending for me right here. Physically, its changed me a lot. Its made me stronger and faster. I just love it.