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Bears now take aim at state football crown

Chittenango, reigning Class B champs, returns entire backfield, linebacker corps

— What many would consider a landmark campaign is, to the current members of the Chittenango football team, a starting point to larger possibilities ahead.

The Bears, in 2011, claimed its first Section III championship in 12 years, and then advanced to the state semifinals, giving a scare to two-time defending state champion Hornell before a 35-27 defeat as the Red Raiders went on to a state three-peat.

Yet as much as that Chittenango team accomplished, head coach Jack Hayes said that what was left undone drives the 2012 version of the Bears.

“It sets the bar a lot higher,” he said. “When you get as far as we did, it makes you want to work as hard as you possibly can to finish the deal. That’s the goal, and it’s attainable.”

So with that ultimate prize in mind, Chittenango had heavy participation in off-season strength and conditioning programs, along with a seven-on-seven passing league during the summer.

When practices opened Aug. 13, the Bears had nearly 40 players on its varsity roster and more than 45 on the JV side, increased numbers that, said Hayes, are a direct result of the enthusiasm generated by last fall’s efforts.

Unlike many high-school football teams that generate large amounts of success, the Bears were not massively affected by graduation. Six starters return on both sides of the ball, including the entire offensive backfield and all five linebackers on the defensive side.

Chittenango is a run-oriented attack, for good reason. Combined, quarterback Devin Phelps, tailback Kyle Zimmer and fullback Joe Gilona gained more than 2,500 yards in 2011, and all of them are back to run wild again.

Phelps, at 5-foot-9 and 140 pounds, is far smaller than the average starting QB in the high-school ranks, but he makes up for it with speed and daring that makes him totally unpredictable to opposing defenses.

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