Aug 22, 2011 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
For just about any high school football program, the departure of 21 seniors would constitute a major challenge for the season that followed.
However, the Cazenovia Lakers are not like most programs.
Here, winning, and contending for championships, are part of the routine. Thus, even with most of the stars gone from last fall’s Section III Class B championship side, head coach Tom Neidl does not consider 2011 a “rebuilding” season.
“We’ve been in this situation before,” said Neidl. “We’re going to work hard, and I think we’ll be competitive with whoever we play.”
Still, it’s hard to ignore who is not present in the Laker huddle. So many big names are gone, from quarterback Jeff Hopsicker to top running backs John Greacen and Noah Shepard to linebacker Dan Majewski, tight end Ben Romagnoli and front-line stars like Liam Ryan, Travis Mimms and Tom Toole.
In particular, the void left by Hopsicker’s graduation is a huge one. He was equally adept at throwing deep downfield or taking off on a long run, constantly leaving defenses guessing about his intentions. He was also intelligent, able to work out of either an I-formation or the spread offense Cazenovia has used in recent years.
As of now, it’s uncertain who will start under center in the Sept. 2 opener at South Jefferson. Neidl that that five different players have taken snaps in practice, including Doyle Judge, Tanner Whiteman, Jack Malmsheimer and Kevin Hopsicker, Jeff’s younger brother.
If Judge or Whiteman aren’t throwing passes, they’ll be catching them as part of a potentially lethal wide receiver tandem. Both are 6-4, athletic and fast, and any attempt to single-cover them could prove futile. Joe Romagnoli and Jeff Dewan are likely to succeed Ben Romagnoli at tight end.
The race to replace Greacen at tailback is just as heated, with Dylan Muller, Jake Wilson, Kevin Smith and Andrew Vogl all looking for carries. At least the Lakers are settled at fullback, where senior Nick Petrovich is a steadying presence.
Four of the Lakers’ five starters on the offensive line are new, too. Only David Ayer, who checks in at 192 pounds, is back, a tackle agile enough to work in either offensive formation.
Either Cameron Braathen or Billy Bigsby will slide into the center position, while Matt Staiger takes over at the other tackle spot. Alex Szlamczynski and Nick Bobbette are the new faces at guard.
Always strong on the defensive side, Cazenovia faces a particular challenge while replacing its entire front line, which included standout ends in Mimms and Ryan. Szlamcynski and Ayer take over, while Staiger is the only certainty at tackle.
Senior Nick Petrovich anchors at middle linebacker, flanked by Bobbette and Muller. At least the front seven will get time for adjustment in front of a superb secondary that includes Judge and Whiteman at safety, with fellow senior David McEntee returning at cornerback.
Cazenovia does not have to worry about the kicking game, either. Nick Christakos handles all short kicks and field goals, while Judge can hit longer field goals, as he did in last year’s epic 50-44 double-overtime victory over Vernon-Verona-Sherrill.
The Lakers welcome two new teams to Class B East, as it visits Camden (down from Class A) on Sept. 16 and hosts Ilion (up from Class C) on Oct. 8. However, Neidl points to the Sept. 10 home opener against Oneida, a rematch of last year’s sectional final at the Carrier Dome that Cazenovia won 21-8, as a chance to see where his team stands.
“We need to mature quickly,” said Neidl. “Oneida will be a tell-tale sign of where we are.”