Aug 29, 2012 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
When the latest incarnation of the Skaneateles football team gathered on Aug. 13 for three weeks of practices leading up to Friday night’s Aug. 31 opener against Bishop Ludden, much was on the agenda for first-year head coach Joe Sindoni.
An assistant to Joe Casamento during CBA’s championship run in the early 2000s, Sindoni faced the task of replacing 17 players from last year’s squad, doing so by introducing many new faces up from a JV team that was 7-1 last fall.
What was not on the agenda, said Sindoni, was any mention of the controversial ending to the 2011 season.
Undefeated at 9-0, and poised to play in the Carrier Dome in its first sectional final in 19 years, Skaneateles instead was ousted from the playoffs by Section III due to allegations of recruiting players, which led to, among other things, the resignation of head coach Tim Green.
“It’s not something we talk about,” said Sindoni. “It doesn’t even need to be discussed. Without saying it, there’s a chip on their shoulders. But we are not focused on what happened [last year]. It would distract us from executing what we need to do this year.”
And while that task is a big one, it is done with lots of returning faces on the offensive side of the ball, none more important than senior quarterback Conor Herr.
Essentially, Herr split time with Troy Green under center over the last two years, starting most of the 2010 season after Green was injured, and stepping in again during last October’s first-round playoff game against Watertown IHC, leading a game-winning drive even after a low block from an IHC player led to an ACL tear in his knee.
That knee has fully healed now, and Herr, who has bulked up to 217 pounds, is, in Sindoni’s words, “a quarterback trapped in a linebacker’s body.” Herr’s experience in the CBA-based spread offense, run by coordinator Tim Brown, is a valuable asset the Lakers will be glad to draw on.
At times, Skaneateles lines up with four or five wide receivers. Jake Cooney, who caught nearly 40 passes a season ago, returns to lead a group that also includes fellow seniors Steve Bright and Max Dwyer. Junior Colin Jones and sophomore Connor Hill, up from the JV ranks, add further depth.
Like Herr, Max Weiss started as a sophomore at running back in 2010, only to cede some of his duties to Malik Merritt in 2011. With Merritt gone, Weiss starts again full-time.
They all benefit from an offensive line that, along with Herr, made a concerted effort in the off-season to bulk up, taking full advantage of the much-improved weight and conditioning program at Skaneateles.
For example, guards Sepp Martens (260 pounds) and Cooper Pitman (225) both gained 20 pounds, while new tackle Nate Molnar went from 180 to 205 pounds. Center Nick Lee didn’t change much, but he was already at 280 pounds, and tackle Luke Drancsak checks in at 210 pounds, giving the Lakers serious bulk across its entire front.
From a base 4-3 defense run by new coordinator Tim Lee (like Tim Brown, a CBA graduate who played under Sindoni when they were with the Brothers), Pitman, Lee and Martin fit into the end rotation, while sophomore Jake Sherman and junior Zack Schneider start at end.
One consequence of Herr’s ACL tear, said Sindoni, is an understandable caution to limit his time at linebacker, where he was a particular standout each of the last two seasons. Drancsak, also a three-year starter, anchors the current unit, flanked by Molnar and another new face, Gunnar Beck-Andersen.
Depending on the play, Bright could line up at linebacker or safety. Sindoni said he wants a lot of rotation in the secondary to keep players that go both ways fresh, so any combination of Bright, Dwyer, Weiss, Cooney, Jones and Cullen Newland could defend passes.
One new twist in 2012 is that the Class C playoffs have doubled in size, from eight to 16 teams. Thus, four teams from the C West division will qualify after a regular season decreased in length to six games, which increases the importance of every single contest.
Right after the tough opener with Ludden, Skaneateles visits Jordan-Elbridge Sept. 6 for a game televised by Time Warner Cable Sports. Two weeks after that, on Sept. 20, the Lakers renew its long rivalry with Marcellus.
“There’s a lot of benefit to playing a big, physical team like Marcellus,” said Sindoni. “It will serve us well.”
Sindoni added that any success this fall will not be vindication for what took place in 2011, but rather a byproduct of conventional factors that any football fan could recognize.
“We’ve got to stay healthy and have some of our younger guys step up,” he said. “The question is, how quickly will those new guys step into their larger roles?”
As far as his role as head coach, Sindoni said his coaching techniques as head coach are “very similar” to former coach Tim Green’s techniques as far as schemes, drills, fundamental skills and other practice plays go. The big difference between them is more one of coaching personality.
“Tim was like a true NFL coach, where he was not actively involved in the practices but more in the oversight and motivation. Tim was a great motivator,” Sindoni said. “I’m not very chatty. I don’t do a lot of motivational stuff. My view is we know what we’ve got to do, so let’s get to it. I know my strengths and weaknesses. My strength is to teach the kids not just what to do but why we do it.”
Because of this different approach, Sindoni said there a different intensity level on the practice field this year, it’s more business-like.
The coaching staff includes seven assistant coaches, including some who Sindoni coached as players when he was at CBA. “We’re a very cohesive group,” he said. “We disagree on a lot of things, healthy disagreements, and that’s great. It’s not about egos, it’s about what’s best for the team.”
Off the field, he said, what’s also good for the team is humility. He intends to instill in his players that while they are special because they play football, “which is probably the most physically demanding sport in the high school,” they are no better than anyone else in the school: athletes in other sports, musicians, artists or any students.
“You’re all teammates,” he said.
Additional reporting by Jason Emerson. Phil Blackwell is the sports editor for Eagle Newspapers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/blackwell_phil.