Cicero 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.