Cazenovia 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.