Aug 28, 2014 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
No longer is the Jamesville-DeWitt football program concerned about reaching the top of the Section III Class A ranks.
It now confronts a different challenge – staying there.
Following a long-awaited sectional final appearance in the Carrier Dome in 2012, the Red Rams had plans of getting there again a year later, only to endure all kinds of injuries, the sort that might have crippled the plans of seasons past.
That didn’t happen here, though. J-D still managed a 5-2 regular-season mark and a 14-0 shutout over Whitesboro in the opening round of the sectional playoffs before Indian River stopped them 31-14 in the semifinals, one win short of a return to the Dome.
Head coach Eric Ormond’s task, already made difficult by seeing power running back Rasheed Baker, All-Central New York defender Pete Crossett and top lineman Matt Thompson graduate, got tougher when quarterback Jake Brotzki, still recovering from a knee injury that sidelined him in 2013, transferred to CBA.
This fall, J-D starts out with 28 varsity players, a smaller roster than in seasons past. Ormond said that this group has needed to prove that it could work as hard and show as much heart and determination as their predecessors.
“They’ve worked harder than they’re accustomed to,” said Ormond. “I’ve pushed them pretty hard, and they’re still here.”
At least the Rams can take comfort in seeing Nate Shapiro return. Brotzki’s injury forced Shapiro to start all but one game in 2013, and he learned plenty. Now he’ll run an option offense far more predicated on speed than power.
No single running back will replace Baker’s 215 carries and 1,395 yards. Instead, a wide variety of players will get a chance to prove themselves, from smaller tailbacks like Ernest Shaw, Mike Schwedes, Daetwan Reed and Jahkeera Jamison to bigger players like Joe Morgan and Joe Murphy.
The Rams don’t use a tight end, but in three-year starter Ben Wipper and Terrence Echols, Shapiro has a pair of reliable targets at wide receiver any time J-D wants to break out of its ground-game focus.
There’s also some new faces on the offensive line, where guard Matt Schunck is the lone returning starter. Sam Griffiths has moved from guard to center, with Angel Morales taking over at the other guard spot. Long a defensive standout, Hillel Matasar gets a shot at offensive tackle this fall, joining Dylan Fleischmann on the flanks.
On the defensive side, J-D knows it can count on Morgan and Matasar as the anchors of the front line in the Rams’ 3-5 alignment, with Fleischmann joining them. Wipper, a three-year starter, handles the same task in the secondary, where sophomore Tre Green could make a big initial impression.
But the biggest question mark is at linebacker, where Crossett, Baker, Ben Honis and John Werbowsky formed one of the best groups in Central New York. All are gone now, but Murphy’s return after he missed last fall with a knee injury will help, as he works inside with Eli Williams, with Echols, Reed and Connor Flanagan part of an outside rotation.
“Our season hinges on how quickly our linebackers understand their fits (to the system), and how physical they can be,” said Ormond.
As if the personnel changes weren’t enough, J-D faces another big obstacle – its schedule, or at least the first half of it.
Put simply, the Rams’ start is brutal. It opens next Friday with a long trip to the north country to face Indian River, a playoff rematch that precedes a visit from Whitesboro Sept. 12, the annual showdown with East Syracuse-Minoa Sept. 19 and, to cap off the month, a Sept. 26 clash with defending sectional champion Carthage.
Tough as those games are, only one, against ESM, is in the Class A American division. Ormond said that if his team continues to improve its work ethic and sticks together, it can survive the September gauntlet and still be in position for a league title.