Aug 26, 2011 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Pre-season optimism in sports is nothing new, but the Cicero-North Syracuse football team has a high amount of it as Friday’s opener at Central Square looms.
It’s a much better feeling for the Northstars as compared to this time one year ago. Back then, CNS was still trying to figure out how to replace two-way star Blake Monday, whose season ended with an injury before a single snap.
Without him, and without another top player in Vaughndell Brantley (who went down with a broken hand), the Northstars only went 3-6 and missed the Section III Class AA playoffs.
This time around, there are no doldrums or star players on the sidelines, and head coach Steve Ellis, entering his 10th season at the Northstars’ helm, is as eager as the players and fans to see what happens.
Among other things, said Ellis, there’s 25 seniors on the roster, and there was a much higher participation rate in off-season programs, from the weight room to spring camps.
“I already think we are better,” said Ellis. “But you never know unless you go against somebody different.”
CNS will go there with a veteran core of players, starting with Corey Scanlon at quarterback. Having started every game in 2010, Scanlon, according to Ellis, is stronger in each phase of the game, from arm strength and quickness to leadership and decision-making ability.
What helps make it easier for Scanlon is having a large corps of receivers as targets. Andrew Johnson is back, a 6-3 senior with a 34-inch vertical leap, flanked by Brantley, who is 6-2 and, like Johnson, is a basketball standout in the winter.
Joining them is Mike Spadaro, a 135-pound senior Ellis compares to the New England Patriots’ Wes Welker with his hands and technique. Kareem Lee-Stroman is a track star that joins the fray, while Keenan Miller, Avery Yarn and Xavier Brown add further depth. Austin George, at 6-1 and 211 pounds, gives CNS a solid replacement for Cameron Doray at tight end.
Jeff Hart has parlayed some late starts in 2010 into a spot in the backfield, running behind fullback Alec Hulchanski, a 5-11, 185-pound senior praised by Ellis as a fullback with halfback speed. Two more seniors, Mike Parody and Rashad Ingram, should also get some carries.
Like Lee, much of the offensive line should benefit from the starts they got together late last fall. Matt Fancher, a 208-pound senior, has the most game experience, and moves from tackle to guard, making way for 210-pound junior Tyler Hemingway. Otherwise, tackle Warren Miller (255 pounds), guard Donovan Kims (253 pounds) and center James Murphy (235 pounds) are all seniors.
Depending on the play, CNS will employ three or four defensive linemen. Hemingway, Kims and George will be the constants, with Matt Mastro shuffling between linebacker and end.
The Northstars nearly have as much depth at linebacker as at wide receiver, with Hulchanski and Joe Golembieski leading the way. Parody, Brown, Mitch Dunay, Dewayne Garner and Phoenix Hart all could find their way into the rotation.
Yarn joins Matt Ryle and Mark Broughton at cornerback, while Brantley, Shayne Mitchell and Caleb Dadey all are in the mix at safety. CNS benefits from having a proven kicker and punter in Steve Messur, who brings stability to the special teams.
There is a chance for the Northstars to start fast, with winnable road games at Central Square and Corcoran sandwiched in between the Sept. 9 home opener against Rome Free Academy. Both CBA and Liverpool visit Bragman Stadium before the Oct. 14 regular-season finale at Baldwinsville.
Ellis said that CNS has much more speed and variety on its roster. That, plus the large group of seniors hungry for redemption after last fall’s long slog, has everyone in blue and green believing that a return to the post-season is within reach.