Things were going well for the Chittenango football team as the 2009 regular season drew to a close. The Bears had snagged a share of the Class B East division regular-season title and a top seed for the playoffs, with the reward a home playoff game against a 2-5 opponent in Solvay.
And then Solvay won that game 28-21, a result few expected -- especially on Chittenango's side.
Ever since, the mission for head coach Jack Hayes and his players has centered around getting back to the playoffs and making things right in 2010, but it won't be easy.
The addition of Cazenovia and Holland Patent to a B East division that already included Oneida, Vernon Verona Sherrill and South Jefferson only made the league a tougher circuit. Worse yet, the Bears only get one league game at home (Oct. 1, against VVS) and must travel to the other four schools.
"It's going to be a war out there (in this league)," Hayes said. "People are going to get beat up, so our depth will be important."
Indeed, Chittenango carries a 40-man roster that includes 18 returning players, a group that includes junior quarterback Devin Christopher.
As a sophomore, Christopher impressed with an athletic ability that spreads across three sports (he also plays baseball and basketball), proving equally adept at finding receivers downfield and taking off when they were covered.
"He showed us a lot," Hayes said.
The Bears could see an increased emphasis on the passing game in the early going, since it has to replace tailback Kyle Mills and fullback Dylan Furco. Brendan Galek returns at wide receiver and Steve Mesmer is back at tight end, with Brett Magerell and Brad Phelps likely to rotate with Galek out wide.
This allows Nic Bacon to move from wide receiver to tailback. Bacon will split carries with Jake Bicknell as both try to provide the same production that Mills did. A host of players are still battling to see who succeeds Furco at the fullback position.