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."