Aug 22, 2007 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Trying to follow up a championship season is difficult enough for any football team. Doing so after the predecessors achieved total domination makes it even harder.
In the 11 games it played in 2006, the Cazenovia Lakers outscored opponents 452-31. Its starting defense never allowed a touchdown, nor gave up a single point in the first half of any game all season.
“It was the best team (I had) that played together in every way and was very unselfish,” said head coach Tom Neidl. “They all knew their roles, were very intelligent and showed high energy.”
That translated into a Section III Class B championship, and it might have turned into even more, were it not for the heavy rains that slowed the Lakers up and led to a 3-0 defeat to Chenango Forks in the regional finals.
Trying to follow such domination might be impossible, especially with 16 seniors graduating, but the 2007 edition of the Lakers will make the attempt, starting with Saturday’s 1:30 opener against Clinton at Buckley-Volo Field.
By far, the biggest challenge will be finding a defense comparable to last year’s machine. Eight starters are gone, from David Etter, Jon Parker and Paddy Adolfi on the line, to linebackers Brandon Moyer and James Irwin, to defensive backs Tom Eschen, Brian Bartlett and Justin Hubbard.
However, Artie Bigsby is still around. The Class B All-State selection at linebacker was the first junior in Neidl’s 20-year tenure at Cazenovia to be named captain, and he’s back for a senior season that promises to be just as good.
At 6-0 and 208 pounds, Bigsby is a flexible player that seems to have a hand in every big defensive play, whether blitzing, knocking down passes or just making tackles, and his good work is contagious to teammates.
“He is well-respected by all the kids,” said Neidl. “He’s a leader by example and makes all the people around him better.”
Two new starters will flank Bigsby at linebacker, as Mike McGinnis and Lee Namy take over the spots Irwin and Moyer once occupied.
Up front, Connor Ryan is the lone returning starter. Pat Roszel moves up from linebacker to end, while A.J. Berry and Marcus Schokker are set to take over at tackle.
Chris Nourse is the most experience hand in the secondary, but could move from safety to cornerback as others try to fill the void left by Eschen, Bartlett and Hubbard. Ben Dewan, Aaron Race, Tom Groetz, Seth Goldacker and Sean Dougherty could all see time.
Also, Coleman Koesterer could work at safety — but his much bigger role is on offense, where the senior begins his second season as the Lakers’ quarterback.
Koesterer has bulked up to 195 pounds, and much like his two older brothers (Jamison and Ben) who played quarterback at Cazenovia and went on to play Division I lacrosse, he is a first-rate athlete, equally capable of long throws and long runs any time he goes under center.
At this point, Koesterer knows he has reliable passing targets. Dewan and Race were the Lakers’ top two receivers in ’06, and both are back, augmented by Bigsby at tight end.
However, Cazenovia has to put in a new backfield to replace the lethal combination of Bartlett, Hubbard, Irwin and Moyer. Neidl said the same committee approach will be used this fall, with Groetz, McGinnis, and newcomers Bill Greacean and Chad Dorrance all likely to see carries.
There is genuine concern about the Lakers’ offensive line. Schokker returns at center, while Berry lines up at guard and Ryan at tackle, but two other line spots remain open.
Neidl said he expects Class B West division rivals like Holland Patent, South Jefferson and V-V-S to move up the ladder this fall and give the Lakers more of a challenge. Whether anyone does so remains a mystery.
“We’ll take the same philosophy we always do,” said Neidl. “We won’t look past anyone, keep chipping away and we’ll see where we are at the end of the year.”