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.