Aug 28, 2007 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
In one memorable October evening, the Christian Brothers Academy football team’s stature as Section III’s most envied target came to a sudden halt.
The Brothers’ 43-35 defeat to Fayetteville-Manlius in the opening round of the 2006 Class AA playoffs marked the first time since 1994 that the team had not at least reached the sectional semifinals, an astonishing run.
Other numbers are even more astonishing — like a 69-1 regular-season record in the last 10 years and eight sectional titles scattered over four different classes as Section III kept moving CBA up the ladder to face larger schools.
Yet painful as the F-M loss was to absorb, head coach Joe Casamento said it might have, to some degree, liberated his team from the constant heat of maintaining its winning aura at all times, which can take some of the joy out of the game.
“There’s a bit less pressure not being the (main) target,” he said. “Now we can say, ‘let’s go out and have some fun playing football’.”
Make no mistake, though. CBA has plenty of challenges to deal with in 2007, with Mike Paulus now at the University of North Carolina and other stars, like Jovan Miller, Kris Estabrook and Leon Saddler also out of the picture. Of the 39 players on the roster, 10 are either sophomores or freshmen.
What makes the situation even tougher is that the Brothers are banged up. Five possible starters, three of them on the offensive line, could miss time due to injuries, and even the new quarterback is still in recovery mode.
Dan Sisto is the first player not named Paulus to step under center at CBA since 2000. And he’s still recuperating from a shoulder injury suffered in the ’06 season that limited him to duty at cornerback.
Injured or not, Casamento said Sisto is more likely to run out of the pocket, in the style of Greg Paulus, to keep CBA’s vaunted spread offense on the move. He’ll also tutor sophomore Jared DePalma and freshman Tyler Hamblin, both of whom have lots of promise and will battle for the job once Sisto graduates.
Quite often, Sisto will look for fellow senior Marcus Sales, the team’s lone returning starter at wide receiver. A threat to score every time he touches the ball, Sales will also handle kick returning duties and carries high expectations.
“We need him to step up and big plays,” said Casamento. “It helps our younger players to know that you have someone who can turn things around.”
Zach Brown and Pete Clarke both assume starting roles at wide receiver and must step up to keep opposing defensive backs from concentrating on Sales. Lawrence VanDerBogart, Steve LaBerge and freshman Greg Thompson also could see time.
To succeed Miller at running back, CBA is hoping newcomer Tom Trasolini can step in and start so that sophomore Bryant Moore and freshman Dree Jackson can develop. If they need to, the Brothers could use Garrett Barnard here, though it would prefer to limit his carries and keep him focused on defense, where he is slated to start at middle linebacker.
All their success, though, hinges on an offensive line operating at less than full strength. Tackles Andy Phillips (back) and Stephen Hanserd (shoulder), plus guard P.J. Foti (knee), all could miss Friday’s opener against Union-Endicott and may not be back for a while.
To address this, CBA has brought senior defensive end Pete Papayanakos to the other side and taught him to play tackle. Senior Ronnie Russo is set at center, while varsity newcomers Dan Halladay, Chris Bersani and Ted Barrett might need to start right away as Phillips, Hanserd and Foti heal.
Even with these concerns, though, the Brothers’ bigger battle might lie on the other side of the ball. CBA’s defense, the backbone of all its championship teams, regressed last fall, allowing more than 23 points per game and forcing the team to win its share of shootouts to finish 8-1.
Here, the injury issue hits again, as senior linebacker Steve Modliszewski recovers from a pulled hamstring. Barnard is established here, while Moore, Thompson, Will Chapman, Matt Duggan and Richard McPherson all could see duty.
Sean Wayne, if he doesn’t play at linebacker, will move to the front line, where Papayanokos, Brent Peltz and Mike Brennan all are returning starters and Pat Yehlik also has varsity experience. If Phillips returns, it could make for an imposing unit.
Sales did not much play much defense last fall, but now could start at cornerback. Moore, VanDerBogart, Jackson, Jon Petosa and David Marks are all trying out for spots in a secondary that must replace all four starters.
In the reconfigured Class AA-1 division, CBA opens league play Sept. 14 — at F-M. That chance at payback could influence everything that follows, and Casamento said that, despite the possible issues of health and inexperience, he hopes opponents underestimate them.
“It’s a challenge, but we can be very good because we work hard, we’re talented and the players are starting to get it,” said Casamento. “If teams are not careful and they overlook us, we can win the whole thing.”