A long, productive era for the Bishop Ludden football team reached its conclusion after a tough 28-21 defeat to eventual champion General Brown in last year's Section III Class C semifinals.
Everyone knew that a stellar senior cast was leaving - 14 in all. And four of them - quarterback John Rooney, running back Omar Osbourne, wide receiver Mark DeAngelis and lineman Mike Hogan - earned All-State honors in 2009.
That group, plus the likes of E.J. Beauford, Connor Cosgrove, Nick Ferrante, Dennis Kelly and Dan Fadden, were the main links back to the Gaelic Knights' 2007 state championship, and seeing them depart was difficult enough.
Then head coach John Cosgrove stepped down. He didn't go far away, choosing to lead the new varsity program at Syracuse's Institute of Technology. And Ludden didn't look too far for Cosgrove's successor.
Mike Rogers had been an assistant at Ludden for 14 years, gradually moving his way up to associate head coach as he supervised the defense and special teams. Now Rogers leads the whole show, though it's a modest enterprise.
In all, Ludden has 30 players on its roster, 20 of them freshmen or sophomores, meaning that there isn't a JV team, and that the young players will have to learn at the highest level.
Rogers said that, despite those numbers, all of his players have put in the work, as 27 of them participated in off-season weight training to build strength and endurance for a season where they all might take on multiple roles.
And with Class C West still in a state of fluctuation (the new team at IT, struggles at Cato-Meridian and APW, Jordan-Elbridge playing all its games on the road), the Gaelic Knights still have plenty of optimism for 2010.
"We don't see why we can't be a playoff contender," Rogers said. "Anything less would be a disappointment."