Aug 26, 2013 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
What’s kept the Cazenovia football team at or near the top of the Section III ranks for so long is not a complicated formula.
Combine the hard work of a coaching staff that’s mostly stayed in place for two decades with an uncanny ability to find new players capable of filling the roles of departed seniors, and the result is a whole lot of victories, year after year.
In 2012, that meant 10 consecutive victories in an undefeated regular season that culminated with a second sectional Class B title in three years when it beat neighbor and rival Chittenango in the Carrier Dome before falling to eventual state champion Maine-Endwell in the regional round.
To win it all again in 2013 will require many new names to step up, since 23 seniors, including the likes of Jake Wilson, Ryan Cook, Mark Dewan, Joe Colligan, Billy Bigsby, Jeff Dewan, Nick Tedesco, Nick Bobbett, Cameron Braathen and Matt Staiger, have departed.
But many stars return, too, and again the pipeline is full of potential breakout players, since Cazenovia’s junior varsity team went undefeated a season ago. According to head coach Tom Neidl, of the 40 players expected to hit the field for next Friday night’s season opener at Camden, 25 of them were on last year’s JV squad.
No returning player is more vital to the Lakers’ chances than senior quarterback Kevin Hopsicker. Like other top Cazenovia signal-callers of the past, Hopsicker can capably handle the two formations Neidl will use – a traditional I set with two backs, and then a spread formation from which Hopsicker is more likely to take off downfield if he doesn’t throw the ball.
“He’s extremely smart, and knows our system inside and out,” said Neidl.
Cazenovia is one of the few teams to employ the spread and traditional formation in relatively equal measures, though Neidl said a switch to an emphasis on one formation tends to happen during a game, depending on the circumstances.
Even though Wilson, a game-breaking tailback whose long TD runs made the difference in the sectional final against Chittenango, has graduated, the Lakers’ backfield remains solid. Andrew Vogl takes over as the primary tailback, while Mike Nourse and Carter Woodworth are likely to see carries, too, at the fullback position.
There’s more concern at wide receiver, where a new group of starters are in place except at tight end, where Ryman Seeley returns. Returning players Alex Devine, Billy Rankin and Noah King lead the way, with many junior newcomers right behind.
On the front lines, there’s also some transition involved, but it’s not wholesale. Guard Brad Lucas (280 pounds) and tackle Cody Westfall (285 pounds) bring both size and experience, while Pat Karmis is expected to take over at center. Again, a host of junior newcomers are present, battling it out for the remaining two starting spots.
Another constant throughout Cazenovia’s winning run is a defense, put together by long-time coordinator Jay Steinhorst, that gets the job done multiple ways, whether it’s with a fierce pass rush, tight coverage in the secondary or expert tackling on the part of the linebackers.
At those linebacker spots, standouts like Bobbett and Bigsby will be missed, but not that much, since Nourse, who started on the outside in 2012, slides over and takes over at Bobbett’s middle linebacker position, while Woodworth and Hayden Polhamus flank him.
In the Lakers’ traditional 4-3 defensive set, Westfall, Brad Lucas and Reed Lucas will each see lots of playing time, as will Jake Schaefer, the lone sophomore on the varsity roster. Neidl said he doesn’t like to bring up sophomores unless they are capable of making immediate contributions.
Even with his offensive responsibilities, Hopsicker will also start at cornerback. Neidl said he understands the risk, but added that Schaefer or Keaton Ackerman are capable backup quarterbacks if the need arises. Ackerman is part of the secondary, too, as is Rankin and King.
The only change in Class B East is the addition of Central Valley, the new high school composed of former Ilion and Mohawk students. Central Valley plays Cazenovia in the Sept. 14 home opener at Buckley-Volo Field, right before a Sept. 19 game at Marcellus televised by Time Warner Cable Sports.
Before all that, though, is Cazenovia’s crucial season opener at Camden. With a strong returning cast and a desire to avenge last year’s sectional semifinal defeat, the Blue Devils will give the Lakers an immediate idea as to whether it can repeat its league or sectional honors.
Yet Neidl remains confident. He said the reason the Lakers are so strong is because old and new players both pick up the responsibilities necessary to keep the winning legacy going.
“We talk a lot about tradition with the kids, and the expectations are high,” said Neidl. “We’ve put in a system where we teach players why things are done, painting a picture for them. And it works pretty well.”