Potsdam Central opens at home while Massena Central and St. Lawrence Central get underway on the road as the 2014 NAC varsity football season kicks-off this weekend.
GOUVERNEUR AT POTSDAM
Along with being the NAC season opener for both squads, Saturday’s matchup between the host Sandstoners and Gouverneur Central will also serve as the annual Hall of Fame Game.
Potsdam is coming off an undefeated NAC championshipship season that ended in a Section 10 Class C playoff loss to OFA.
Eight starters from the high-scoring offense of the defending league champion Potsdam Central football team have graduated, making the 2014 season a challenge for the Sandstoners and 12th-year head coach Jim Kirka.
“We had huge losses on offense and a lot of young guys, a lot of new guys are now battling for starting spots,” said Kirka who is dealing with the graduation loss of 20 seniors overall.
“But this is a good group who worked hard in the summer. They’re big and strong and if we stay healthy we can have a good season. Hopefully we can get off to a good start and we should get better as the season goes on. It’s fun coaching them.”
Max Warden moves from tight end to take over duties at quarterback while the backfield includes returning starter Chase Palmer along with a pair of promising rushers up from the JV in John Manguel and Matt Deon. Daquan Pitts is the team’s top returning receier.
“Max brings a lot to the table at quarterback. He understands the game, he has good size and a good arm,” noted Kirka.
Several Potsdam linemen will play on both sides of the ball, led by returning starter Zack Rottier. Other top linemen include Nathan Moose, Dustin Fisher and Shane Reome.
The linebacking corp is led by Josh Lang and the defensive backfield by Logan Ford.
Leaving the Potsdam program will be long-time assistant coach Mike Loconti.
“Mike has helped us for a long time. He knows so much about the game and you can’t replace that,” said Kirka. “He’ll be greatly missed.”
The Wildcats are coming off a 1-6 regular season as coach Sean Devlin looks to build a competitive team around a talented core of veterans that includes four All-NAC First Team selections, Aaron Bush (Senior, WR-DB), Troy Gates (Senior WR-DE), Aaron McEathron (Sr TE-LB), and Adrian McShane (Jr. RB-LB), and Second Team pick Benjamin Casey (Sr. QB-DB).
Saturday’s Hall of Fame Game is slated to begin at 2 p.m.
MASSENA AT FA
The Raiders make their season debut Saturday afternoon in Malone against what is expected to be a very capable Franklin Academy squad starting at 1:30 p.m.
After getting a taste of state playoff experience last fall, Massena enters the 2014 NAC season hungry for more.
“Going to states last year was a great experience for all of us. Things didn’t work out our way and we wound up losing to the eventual Class A champions,” said coach Anthony Diagostino, who returns for his seventh season at the Raider helm.
“Seeing the quality of football at the state level opened our eyes. We saw what it takes to compete at the next level and the kids know better now how much harder they have to work to get there,” he added.
The Raiders went 5-2 in their regular season games in 2013 with a team that featured an even mix of seniors and juniors. They followed that up with a pair of encouraging playoff wins against Section 10 rivals before closing out their season in a 42-0 loss to Section 3 champion Queensbury in the first round of the state Class A playoffs.
This year’s squad boasts 17 veterans but the Raiders will look to fill the void left by the graduation of several key starters on offense including running back JP Reagan, who finished as the top rusher in the NAC last fall, and two-year starting quarterback Rory Corcoran.
“We lost some quality players to graduation but that’s always the case in high school football. You just have to be prepared to move on,” noted Diagostino.
“This year’s team is similar to last year in that we have a good balance of older kids and new kids. We’re already getting the same kind of strong leadership from the seniors and the younger kids are really stepping up,” he added.
Senior runningback Isaiah Dillabough is expected to take over as the lead ball carrier and classmate Josh Manley returns after emerging as the team’s top receiving threat last fall.
The Raiders also feature a veteran core of linemen that includes seniors Nolan Terrance, Brody LeCuyer, Sean Green, Cordell Benedict, Jacob Arquette-Laffin, Reed Chapman, Young Joe Rourke, Billy MacCuaig, Joel Hinkley and Nate Premo.
Junior newcomers Maddox Merry and Bobby Todd are competing for the job of starting quarterback.
Returning seniors Zach Plourde and Matt Thibault, first-year junior Ethan Marcello and rookie sophomore Mike Bressard are being counted on to bolter the receiving corps while junior Josh Zembeck is showing promise in his first varsity season at runningback.
“One of the problems we had last year was that Josh Manley had most of our catches and team’s were able to focus on him. This year, we’re hoping to balance things out a little more with our passing game,” Diagostino noted.
Other returning seniors include Tyler Mott (SE/DL), Tim VanTassell (SE/DL), Jayce Lanning (SE/DB/K) and Bailey Furnace (OL/DL).
Also making steady steady progress as junior newcomers are Alex Batten (SE/DB), Devin Collins (OL/DL), Ivan Delosh (SE/DB), Jaret Warriner (SE/DL), Jarrett Harvety (OL/DL), Jess Jordan (OL/LB), Josh LaShomb (TE/DE) and Mason McGill (OL/DL).
“We have decent numbers and a bunch of tough kids who are working really hard,” said Diagostino. “We’re all very anxious to get the season started and go up against other teams.”
The Huskies wound up going 5-5 overall last fall as they look to rebound in 2014 with a sold core of returning players such as juniors Camron Gallagher, Zach Raymond and Josh Dora along with seniors Austin Geremia, Dylan Garrand, Jacob “Whitey” Scharf and Jacob Prue.
SLC AT OFA
Regardless of the outcome, the Larries will be part of OFA history on Friday night when they get set to take on the Blue Devils under the lights in the first varsity football game slated for the new turf field.
After decades of competing against the larger schools for post-season honors due to a number of merger agreements with neighboring districts, the Larries will be getting a chance to face someone more its own size for 2014.
The Larries, who will still benefit from the addition of a handful of players from Parishville-Hopkinton this fall, no longer have Brushton-Moira student-athletes on their roster and are moving from Class C to Class D. Tupper Lake is the lone other Class D school in the NAC and the two teams will face each other in the Section 10 championship game regardless of how their regular seasons turn out.
“It’s just Tupper Lake and us this year. They’re one of the teams that we’ve been competitive against and we’re hoping that’s going to be the case again this year,” noted coach Bill Scharf, who enters his sixth season at the varsity helm with a team that features a solid core of 13 veterans.
“We have another tough schedule this year so staying healthy is going to be a big key for us,” he added. “Overall right now, things are looking very good. Our seniors are coming on strong as leaders and our younger players are really coming around. The kids are feeling pretty positive.”
Junior Mark Crump and sophomore Mike Plante will be counted on to take over in the offensive backfield with Plante slated to move to quarterback after emerging as the team’s leading two-way threat to run the ball and catch it last season and Crump expected to handle the bulk of the rushing duties along with classmates Brandon LaBarge and Noah Felix. Freshman Keith Felix is showing strong potential at runningback and will likely get a chance to carry the ball while classmate Luke Plante, who was also making promising progress at the position, saw his season cut short with a serious leg injury the second week of practice.
“Mike Plante is looking pretty good at quarterback. He’s throwing the ball well and he’s doing a nice job of running the offense,” said Scharf. “Right now we’re looking at four or five kids that can run the ball.”
First-year sophomores Shilo Winters and Luke Collins are also taking snaps at quarterback. Winters is also listed as a runningback while Collins will also be playing at tight end.
The Larries will also look to build around a veteran core of linemen that includes senior center Joel Truax, senior guards Caleb Gomes and John Cherniak and senior tackle Chris Gray. Veterans battling for playing time at tight end include senior Tobias Fonseca and junior Hunter Storrin. Other returning linemen include juniors Garrett Clark and Connor Francis.
Other newcomers looking to work their way into playing time include; juniors - Skyler Cree (T), Kyle Phippen (T) and Austin Brothers (T); sophomores - Jason Crump (G), Gavin McGraph (TE) and William Nostrom (G); freshmen - Alex Bush (C), Eli Kocsis (G), Reese Evans (G), Isiah Lyon (TE) and Dan Rowbottom (G).
The Blue Devils went 8-2 last season as they get set to work toward defending their Section 10 Class C title.
All-NAC selection Nolan Rufa returns to anchor the offensive line and the linebacking corps while Joey Dalton looks to expand upon the promise he showed as a freshman passing, running and coordinating out of an uptempo, spread offense.
Rufa and fellow seniors in slotback-defensive back Jon Rogers and wide receiver-defensive back Nick Sweeney will captain the team.
Kick-off for the inaugural varsity football game played on the new turf in Ogdensburg is slated for 7:30 p.m.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The entire sports staff of Northern New York Newspapers contributed to the preceding article.