Aug 29, 2008 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
With a large and talented returning cast, plus hunger gained from a string of close calls last autumn, the Chittenango football team carries high ambition into the 2008 season.
Only it won’t do so in the same neighborhood.
After a long stint in Section III’s Class A ranks, a revamping of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association’s enrollment standards means that the Bears now play in Class B. According to head coach Jack Hayes, this brings Chittenango more in line with schools with similar enrollment.
It wasn’t for competitive reasons. True, the Bears went 2-7 in the 2007 campaign, but four of those losses were by a touchdown or less, perhaps a byproduct of a youthful lineup still figuring out how to close out games.
Now, said Hayes, his 30-man varsity roster is primed for a breakthrough.
“They are excited and fired up and know they can play,” he said.
Chittenango lost just two offensive starters to graduation, but took a major hit when Jim Swagler, a strong 260-pound junior projected to start at tackle, broke his leg in the first day of full-contact drills Aug. 23. He is out for the season.
Another junior, Rich Moore (224 pounds), replaces Swagler, while Josh Wright (230 pounds) returns at the other tackle spot. Kyle Schiedo (200 pounds) starts at center, flanked by his brother, Ryan Schiedo (190 pounds), and Jordan Barber (215 pounds), who are an experienced pair of guards.
Together, this veteran line is assigned to protect senior quarterback Jon Stevens, who has started under center since late in the 2006 season. He led the Class A American division with more than 1,000 passing yards a season ago and heads a well-balanced attack.
Andy Moth returns as Stevens’ primary target at wide receiver. Two other seniors, Adam Wayne and Cody Skinner, will battle for time at the other receiver slot. At tight end, Nick Boysen succeeds Shaun St. Onge.
Senior Justin Pistello and junior Kyle Mills share the duties at tailback, and both hope to take pressure off Stevens, while Dylan Furko moves up from the JV ranks to take over at fullback. Hayes said Furko is physical and “likes to hit people”, which makes him a perfect fit to be Chittenango’s primary blocking back.
Most of the time, the Bears will use a five-man defensive front, combining size in the middle with quickness and pressure outside.
Barber, who played defensive tackle in 2007, moves to the end spot, joined by Greg Infantine, a physical player with a quick first step. Craig Martin and Jon Kearns lead a deep group of tackles primed to stop the run.
Hayes said he is confident in the ability of his linebackers, as Moss, Pistello and Mills all work outside, while Boysen and Furko fill the inside spots. Wayne returns to start at safety, with Jake Bicknell and Brian Bohme joining Skinner in the cornerback rotation.
Chittenango made the move to Class B East with Oneida, joining incumbents Holland Patent, Vernon-Verona-Sherrill and South Jefferson, and it won’t play a league game until Sept. 26, when it hosts VVS.
Prior to that, it’s a tough slate. The Bears open Friday at Solvay, which just happens to be Hayes’ alma mater. That’s followed by a trip to Homer Sept. 12 and the home opener a week later — against long-time state power Chenango Forks.
What is certain, said Hayes, is that these games will show whether his experienced lineup is ready to push for the team’s first sectional title since 1999.
“We definitely want to compete for a league championship,” he said. “It’s a competitive league, and we’re excited to have a senior-heavy lineup to deal with it. I like our chances.”