Aug 29, 2009 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Sometime in 2006, a talented and hungry group of sophomores began to assume key roles on the Oneida football team, hoping to push them to new levels of greatness.
Did they ever.
As seniors in 2008g, this group flourished, and the Indians not only won its first-ever Section III Class B championship, it advanced all the way to the state title game before falling to Rye.
“It was a fantastic ride for us,” head coach Bill Carinci said. “The whole community was excited.”
Now, in 2009, the trick will be to maintain that excitement with an entirely new cast of characters. No less than 19 of last season’s 22 starters graduated, forcing a new group of Oneida players to step in quickly, though, as Carinci admitted, they are following a giant shadow.
That would be especially true at quarterback. Ryan Kramer came to embody the team’s rise to glory, not only by starting under center, but by working as a first-rate defender and kick returner who simply would not let his team lose. He threw for 21 touchdowns in ’08 and ran for 12 more.
Right through Saturday’s five-way scrimmage at New Hartford (Bishop Ludden, Ilion and Clinton were also involved), senior Jeremy Rodriguez and junior Matt Mosack were in a pitched battle to see who would succeed Kramer, now a running back at Colgate University.
In an indirect way, Nate Mallinder has become the team’s top running back. Due to injuries to Rick Rossi, Chris Janes and Jesse Christian late last season, Mallinder was starting in the backfield by the time Oneida reached the state final.
Now, Mallinder will get a full season in that role, aided by Nathan Hall and newcomer Chris Chesebro, while Evan Stoffle and Tyler Burton split the duties at fullback.
At wide receiver, Brandon Miles (like Kramer, a first-team All-State selection) has departed. Eric Riley and Shawn Ano are adept at possession, while Mike Rabbitt possesses terrific speed (he’s a star on Oneida’s track team) and will be the deep threat. With Wade Kline gone, Evan Watson and Rob Johnson take over at tight end.
Junior Brandon White, who tops out at 310 pounds, anchors the offensive line at tackle after starting in the state final as a sophomore. White and Andrew Hornyak (279 pounds) make for a big pair of tackles, while Ryan Shene (220 pounds) and Brian Chevier (200 pounds) take over at guard. Jared Rinaldo and Travis Morrison are battling for the center spot.
By the time of the ’08 playoffs, Oneida’s defense had become an imposing force, eventually recording shutouts over Westhill (in the sectional final) and Bath Haverling (in the state semifinals), and holding Rye to a season-low total of points in the state title game.
Carinci said building the Indians’ defense in ’09 is “our biggest challenge, for sure”, and it starts on the line, where two first-team All-State selections, Will Jones and Matt Gillmeister, have graduated. Hornyak and White fill up space at tackle. Shene, Morrison, Rinaldo, Chevier and Kyle Blessing give Oneida a deep group of ends.
Mallinder gives the Indians some veteran experience at linebacker, and he could go inside or outside, depending on where Burton and Stoffle line up. In the secondary, little is settled, but Riley, Ano and Mosack all expect to be defending the pass this fall.
The benefit of a five-team Class B East division, said Carinci, is the fact that Oneida gets a couple of non-league games at the start (against Solvay and Homer) to blend in its new lineup and to see what needs to be worked on. Oneida must visit league rivals South Jefferson and Chittenango, and also goes on the road for a sectional finals rematch with Westhill on Oct. 9.
To expect something similar to the magic of 2008 might be impossible, but Carinci said that won’t keep opponents from targeting his team.
“We pointed out to the players that, no matter who we play, they’ll be aiming for us,” Carinci said. “We do have athlete. It (our success) depends on how quickly we gel, how quickly we come together as a team.”