Aug 26, 2014 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Perhaps more than any other high school football program in Central New York, the Cazenovia Lakers have weathered the sport’s changes, its constant arrivals and departures, and have remained a powerful force.
And in 2014, the Lakers’ resilience will get tested once more.
Many key players from the team that flattened 10 straight foes last fall en route to another Section III Class B title, only to drop a heartbreaking 35-34 decision to eventual state champion Maine-Endwell in the regional playoffs, have graduated.
Head coach Tom Neidl said getting over that loss took a while, not so much for himself (he became a grandfather for the first time the very next week), but for his players.
“That (the loss to Maine-Endwell) was a heartbreaker,” said Neidl. “The hardest part was trying to explain that to the kids after they competed so well against the best in the state.”
The 17 departed seniors include running back Andrew Vogl, linemen Cody Westfall and Brad Lucas, defensive captain Mike Nourse and other standouts like Noah King and Ryman Seeley.
And it included Kevin Hopsicker, the do-everything senior quarterback. Neidl said that, beyond the statistics, what he misses most about Hopsicker is his football smarts, his ability to detect what an opposing defense is doing and react to it well.
Studying all that as Hopsicker’s backup, Keaton Ackermann waited his turn, and now will likely get the nod at quarterback this fall, though Jake Schaffner has pushed for playing time under center, too. Whoever isn’t at quarterback will play at split end, with Ackermann handling all of the team’s kicking duties, too.
While the offense is the same – a hybrid of a two-back set and spread unique to the Lakers, even if Ackermann might be more prone to throwing the ball than Hopsicker was. Schaffner will go to wide receiver, where Alex Devine has the most experience.
Dan Phillips started at running back in 2013 when Vogl missed several games due to injury. Now he’s the veteran, though still likely to split carries Jake Wozniak and T.J. Connellan, the lacrosse standout already committed to Penn State. There’s depth at fullback, too, with Kevin Frega, Anthony Rinaldo and Brendan Whalen in the mix.
Even with Westfall’s departure (he was an All-State selection), the offensive line should remain a strong point.
Reed Lucas, Hayden Polhamus, Ryan O’Herien, Brian Silfer and Jon Nannery all have starting experience, with Sean Cunningham adding further depth. What’s more, Neidl said they could all line up at guard, tackle or center, depending on whether the two-back set or spread is used.
Long a team strength, Cazenovia’s 4-3 defense has a new anchor at middle linebacker. Frega, who stands at 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, transferred in from New Jersey this year and is expected to provide the same kind of performance and leadership that Nourse did, helped by the likes of Phillips, Polhamus and Rinaldo at outside linebacker.
Cazenovia maintains its 4-3 front, employing a defensive line rotation that includes Lucas, O’Herien, Nannery and Silfer, with Schaffner helping out, too, as an end, even if he has to assume quarterback duties at some point this season.
Only Ackermann, at safety, returns as a starter in the secondary, but Connellan steps into the other safety spot, with several players vying to start alongside Sam Langan at cornerback.
With Holland Patent back in the Class B East division after some time spent in Class C, the Lakers’ entire regular-season schedule, which kicks off Sept. 6 against visiting Camden at Buckley-Volo Field, consists of league games.
Fortunately, Cazenovia gets four of them at home, with South Jefferson (Sept. 13), Holland Patent (Sept. 27) and Vernon-Verona-Sherrill (Oct. 11) also coming to Buckley-Volo. But the road games include the regular-season finale, a highly-anticipated Oct. 17 showdown with Oneida, the team the Lakers beat twice last year, including 21-0 in the sectional final at the Carrier Dome.
Through his 25 years as Lakers head coach, Neidl’s approach has rarely changed – and doesn’t need to, with 169 wins on the ledger and a win percentage better than .750.
“We’ve got to maximize our talents and play as a team,” said Neidl. “The whole key is evaluating the talent and getting them to mesh together. We just have to get better every week, and we find ourselves consistently progressing. You can’t stall out.”