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Indian River kicks off excitement of new season

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PHILADELPHIA — To football players like Densel Barnes, this is one of the most exciting days of the season, if not the entire year.

With a new scholastic year just a couple of weeks away, schools throughout Section 3, including Barnes’s Indian River, held the first day of football practice Monday.

“It definitely is,” said Barnes, who is preparing for his junior season with the Warriors. “I’m very excited — this is a day I really look forward to. The first day of practice is the best day.”

“Absolutely,” said Indian River coach Cory Marsell before his team took to the field for an afternoon practice clad in their Carolina blue helmets. “The kids definitely look forward to it and as coaches we look forward to the kids coming out and showing us what they can do. It’s about being ready for the start of a new season so we can see what this group has.”

The Warriors are embarking on a new season after a strong 2012 campaign in which they won another division championship and once again advanced to the sectional semifinals.

“That was great,” Marsell said of last season. “We play in a very tough division, so to win it was awesome. We won a playoff game again, but we want to accomplish more that this year.”

So although it’s only the team’s first week of preseason practices and workouts as a group, Indian River’s expectations are high.

“I think we’ll be great, just like last year,” Barnes said. “With Fort Drum, we have new kids coming all the time, which is awesome.”

“It’s good to get things going and to get started,” said junior running back and linebacker Connor Brown. “I’m pretty confident that we can do well.”

On paper, Indian River football was hit hard by graduation and with the departure of some players whose military families moved out of the area.

“We graduated a lot of talent,” Marsell said. “Our numbers are OK right now, but we lost Jason Smith, who moved like a few other players, and that really hurt. But we’re going to be in the hunt and we’re just going to battle.”

Smith, a talented quarterback for the Warriors, left when his family relocated. Marsell said the program graduated a host of seniors — including running back Darrius Bryant (1,261 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns in 2012), a first-team All-State player in Class A and the Times’ Section 3 MVP — and five more players.

“Densel is very talented,” Marsell said of Barnes, who rushed for 499 yards and scored eight touchdowns last season. “But we’re losing kids like Darrius Bryant and Jason Smith, they were great players for us.

“But it’s going to be fun, we’re just going to see what these guys have. We’re going to work them a lot.”

Barnes and Brown, who started as linebacker as a sophomore in 2012 in his first varsity season, are expected to help lead this Indian River team.

“Defensively, I feel a little more comfortable,” Marsell said. “We lost Devin Kincaid, who was a transfer last year who was fantastic for us. ... We’re more solid there, we have four of our five linemen returning, along with one linebacker and one secondary guy.”

“We’re going to have to have a lot of people step up,” Brown said. “We’ve got some new kids who should help us — I think we should be a good team again.”

With this talent base to draw on as well as students who are native to the district, Indian River continues to make strides as a program in the four years since it joined the section in 2009 after competing in Section 10.

In 2012, the Warriors went undefeated in divisional play at 5-0 to win their second Class A National Division title in three years.

Indian River also advanced to the Section 3 semifinals in Class A for the third consecutive season with a 35-14 victory over Fulton, but was then dispatched by eventual champion Nottingham, 48-26.

“We need to play better once we get to the playoffs,” said Marsell, whose team has gone 7-2 in each of the past three seasons. “We seem to not finish the job in the playoffs and we can’t be satisfied with that. We need to do a better job of finishing at the end of the year. We need to take that next step and it’s got to happen soon.”

“We really want to make it to the finals,” Barnes said. “We just have to keep working harder and getting better as the season goes along. We have to do our best.”

Marsell is hopeful the Warriors will be balanced on both sides of the ball, but will need some players to step into leadership roles this campaign.

“We absolutely need some leaders to step up,” Marsell said. “We we need some kids to step in learn how to play the Warrior way. ... The one thing in showing them that is not as easy to do because you have kids who have just moved here, so it’s hard for them to really understand what it is, but they do catch on, especially with the right leadership.”

The Warriors open their season at Oswego at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 5 and commence the home portion of their schedule against Jamesville-DeWitt at 6 p.m. on the following Thursday.

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