Aug 29, 2008 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Canastota football fans are getting accustomed to seeing sustained success at the varsity level under head coach Eric Van Slyke.
In four seasons, Van Slyke’s Raider teams have gone 25-10 and have become regular visitors to the Section III Class C playoffs. That included a 2007 campaign where Canastota was 6-3, falling in the opening round to Thousand Islands 34-21.
Now all that remains is to take that deep run to a first-ever sectional title. To do so in 2008 will require the emergence of a quarterback to succeed Kody Parkhurst and the emergence of a new offensive line, since all five starters from last season graduated.
“We’ve got guys to pick from,” said Van Slyke. “It’s just a matter of putting it all together.”
Entering last Saturday’s three-way scrimmage against Oneida, VVS and Chittenango, Van Slyke still did not have a starting QB. Senior Ryan Merrill backed up Parkhurst a season ago, while junior Bill Marsh was the JV starter in ’07.
Whoever fared better in the scrimmage was likely to gain the starting nod for Friday night’s opener at Frankfort-Schuyler. Still, Van Slyke said there was a good chance that, depending on the game situation, both guys could play, since Merrill is adept at running an option offense and Marsh excels at operating the spread offense.
At tailback, the duo of Jake LaBarre and Josh Lavoie allow for a smooth transition after the departure of Dan Cerio and John Coonrod. Meanwhile, Sam Stagnitti returns at fullback after starting as a sophomore, equallya adept at blocking and knocking over would-be tacklers when he carries the ball.
Whoever starts at quarterback will have a pair of proven wide receivers to throw to, as Anton Motley and Dan Sandford return for their senior seasons. Van Slyke said his offense could flourish if Motley and Sandford can get catches.
“Both can do wonderful things when they get the ball in their hands,” said Van Slyke.
Of course, the biggest questions are on the line — where, among other things, Tom Zupan, Keith Casolare and Tyler Archambeault are battling for time at tight end.
The position battles continue across the line. Van Slyke could pick between Jon Campanaro and John Carver at left tackle, while Ken Martin and Richard Broulette work at right tackle. At guard, it’s Jon Hibbard or Mike Tornatore on the left side, Charlie Smith or John Tiller on the right side. And to top it off, Jesse Polisse and John Scanlon contend for the center spot.
At least Tornatore is set to start at defensive nose guard, the pivot point of Canastota’s five-man defensive front, the head of what could be a very good unit.
Tiller, Carver and Broulette will rotate into the tackle spot, as could Campanaro, Martin and Scanlon, giving the Raiders lots of options. Lavoie and Shea Cerio make for a pair of quick and effective defensive ends.
Stagnitti might be the anchor of Canastota’s defense, returning for his second go-round at middle linebacker. At 225 pounds, he could physically dominate and occupy offensive attention, allowing outside linebackers LaBarre and 160-pound Kyle Duffy to run wild and hit.
In the secondary, Motley, Sandford and Ray Smith team up to give the Raiders a solid trio of cornerbacks. Merrill is the returning starter at safety, and if he needs some rest due to possible quarterback duties, Bill Marshall can provide it.
With special teams such a vital part of any team’s game plan, the Raiders might, literally, have a leg up with Shea Cerio around. He kicked a 39-yard field goal last season and, in practice, has been successful from as far as 45 yards.
Canastota finds itself in, arguably, one of the toughest Class C leagues in the state — C South, to be precise. Mount Markham went to the sectional finals in 2007, and Westmoreland reached the state semifinals in 2006.
Oh yeah, and three one-time Class B schools fill out the league, including Cazenovia, winner of the last two Section III Class B championships. The Lakers join Sherburne-Earlville and Clinton in a mass exile to the C ranks, adding to the Raiders’ challenge.
Yet Van Slyke and his players embrace that challenge, saying that that, if a team is going to blaze a championship path, it might as well do so through the deepest forest.
“We have our hands full, but we wouldn’t want it any other way,” he said. “I’m excited about it, and so are the players. They are ready to hit somebody else.”