Aug 31, 2008 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Jordan-Elbridge football head coach Mike Smart spoke in understated tones about the travails his program has gone through.
“J-E has become used to overcoming obstacles,” he said.
This has included, in recent years, a long struggle in the Class B West league, then a stint as an independent program limited in its ability to earn post-season berths, then a return to the B West ranks only to get overwhelmed again.
Maybe, in 2008, that all ends. A revamping of the state’s enrollment standards has placed the Eagles in Class C, finally able to compete against schools with similar class sizes and talent pools. And this could mean a rapid ascent.
Looking back, Smart said the Eagles always put up a good effort against the likes of Westhill, Marcellus and Solvay, but that his players are looking forward to having a real chance to win.
“It (facing Class B teams) has been good practice for us,” he said. “But it’s time to take a deep breath and play some competitive games.”
As the Eagles take flight in Class C West, it does so with more than 40 players on its varsity roster (49 turned out for practices), allowing for plenty of depth and solid talent on both sides of the ball.
Zach Frost, a junior, moves up from the JV ranks and succeeds James Hohm as the Eagles’ quarterback, and senior Alex Fletcher could step in and play under center, if necessary.
When tailback Joey Poppe (who set the school single-season rushing record in 2006) got hurt late last season, Mitch Merrill took over and gained valuable experience. Now, with Poppe graduated, Merrill is the Eagles’ primary running threat, with Abe Patrick and Clint Daniels also poised to see lots of carries.
Josh Livingston is set at wide receiver, as is junior Jeff Guadagnolo at tight end. Paul Jesmer and Jeff Donofrio are locked in a battle to see who takes the other receiver slot.
J-E is blessed by some serious size on the right side of the offensive line. At tackle, Joe Ripa tips out at 321 pounds, while guard Will Smithson weighs in at 305 pounds. Together, they could overwhelm onrushing defenders and give Frost lots of time to throw.
By contrast, center Connor Smart and left guard Dylan Forney both check in under 200 pounds, as does Jason Jodway (190 pounds), who is in a position battle with 250-pound Joe Davis to see who starts at left tackle.
Smart should have lots of speed and energy on his four-man defensive front. Forney and Derek Bronson are set to start at the end spots, while Bryan Murray, Will Tyrell and Colby Auer give the Eagles a trio of fresh, talented run-stuffers at tackle.
At linebacker, Fletcher and Daniels work inside, flanked by Patrick and Guadagnolo at the outside spots. Merrill is set to go both ways, starting at free safety, while Livingston works at cornerback. Nick Berwind and Matt Simmons fill out the secondary.
Not only did J-E move into Class C West, it did so just after reigning state champion Bishop Ludden lost the three players (Connor Sweeney, Daquan Grobsmith and Wendall Williams) most responsible for taking the Gaelic Knights to the summit.
Still, the schedule isn’t easy, as the Eagles (for the second year in a row) get just three home games, going to Tully this Friday and General Brown on Sept. 12 before getting its home opener Sept. 19 against Cato-Meridian.
What it all comes back to, said Smart, is that the Eagles have a chance, in Class C, to reach goals that were close to impossible against larger schools.
“They (the players) are very excited, because they know that, if they go into each game and execute, they can win,” he said.