With one resounding post-season effort 10 months ago, the Chittenango football team announced its return to the Section III spotlight.
The Bears were not supposed to win its Class B playoff opening-round game at Marcellus. But led by a tough and ferocious defense, Chittenango stunned the Mustangs 20-7, ending what had been a nine-season drought between playoff wins.
"That win got everybody fired up, and brought some excitement (for football) back to the school and the community," head coach Jack Hayes said.
And while the Bears fell in the semifinals to eventual state runner-up Oneida, the long-term positive effect of the '08 campaign could be found in the team's preparations for 2009.
From year-round work in the weight room to a successful run in the seven-on-seven Cicero-North Syracuse Passing Tournament in July, Chittenango has steeled itself to reach a higher level -- perhaps even its first sectional title in 10 years.
Such a run, though, will depend on how quickly the Bears mesh in a new quarterback, new receivers and new interior lines on both sides of the ball.
Both Jon Stevens (injured early in the '08 season) and Jake Bicknell, who played under center last fall, have graduated, and now sophomore Devin Christopher steps in full-time, having seem some action (and thrown a touchdown pass) in the sectional semifinal loss to Oneida.
Christopher, said Hayes, gives the Bears more options than ever in the passing game, with a solid arm and a 6-0, 160-pound frame that allows him to escape the pocket quickly and take off if the opening is there.
When he throws, Christopher will have some options, whether it's Brendan Galek or Nic Bacon at the receiver spots, or tight ends Steve Mesmer and Cavin Chaires. All are first-time starters on the offensive side.
In his third varsity campaign, Kyle Mills takes over as the starting tailback, with junior Luke Bicknell helping out whenever Mills needs a breather. They'll run behind Dylan Furco, who returns at fullback.