Aug 29, 2013 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Regardless of what is going on in the rest of the world, there’s no doubt that Chittenango football is in the midst of a serious boom.
In the last two years, the Bears have gone 19-2, earning a Section III Class B championship in 2011 and coming close to repeating 12 months later before Madison County rival Cazenovia stopped them 35-21 in the title game at the Carrier Dome.
All of this success has proved contagious. Chittenango head coach Jack Hayes said that, in all of his 15 years in the program (10 as head coach), he has never seen this amount of participation.
When the Bears take the field in front of a large, loud home crowd Friday night for its 2013 opener against Westhill, it will have 49 players on the varsity roster, with another 40 playing JV.
“People are just excited to play football for the Bears,” said Hayes.
And that excitement has not dulled one bit because of the departures of so many stars from those 2011-12 teams. Devin Phelps is gone, as is Steve Billington. Aaron Jones is at Buffalo State. Kyle Zimmer is at St. John Fisher. Joe Gilona has headed to Morrisville State.
But with such a large group of returning players and an influx of new faces, Hayes said he is not concerned one bit about losing so many stars.
“The kids that are back know what kind of effort it takes, and know where they want to be at the end of the season,” he said. “We’re not looking to slow things down one bit.”
Replacing Phelps at quarterback is a particularly tall order, but senior Matt Cretaro will give it a shot. Having waited so long behind Phelps, said Hayes, has made Cretaro determined to succeed and display his own strong arm and leadership skills.
The departure of Zimmer and Gelona in the backfield would normally cripple a team, but the Bears still have experience there in the form of three-year varsity players Connor Mills and Cory Benn. Combined, Mills, Benn and well-regarded sophomore Andrew Flack are charged with providing the same sort of consistent production Zimmer and Gelona provided.
Many times, Matt Cretaro will be throwing to his twin brother, Josh, who will alternate between receiver and running back, depending on the play call. Jordan Sass, Chittenango’s basketball point guard during the winter, is more of a traditional receiver, while Bill Strodel and another highly-regarded sophomore, Matt Theobald, split the tight-end duties and succeed Billington.
What aids the Bears in all of its transition at the skill positions is the presence of a potentially dominant offensive line that, even with the loss of Jones and Jon Simmons, returns three starters.
Brett Buyea (285 pounds) lines up at left tackle, while Casey Placito (245 pounds) and Jon Guignard (225 pounds) both start at guard. A fourth senior, Jason Randall (230 pounds), takes over at tackle as Justin Cox (215 pounds) is the new center.
By far, Chittenango’s biggest challenge on the defensive side is at linebacker, where Jones, Gilona and Zimmer were dominant forces.
Mills and Benn start at outside linebacker in the Bears’ 3-5 alignment, which is designed to take advantage of speed and athleticism all over the field. Sass, Cox, Flack could play here, too, while Tony Lozipone works in the middle.
Mitch Mahosky anchors the defensive line as a nose guard, and while Cox, Placito and Guignard could play at end, Hayes said there’s a real battle for playing time everywhere. Yet another promising sophomore, cornerback Akira Gatewood, joins a secondary where Matt Cretaro lines up at safety and Josh Cretaro is the other corner.
As an example of the sort of numbers the Bears have on its roster, they have Dan Brazell handling kickoffs, and sophomore Matt Milliman specializing in field goals and extra points.
Four of Chittenango’s first six games – against Westhill, Phoenix, Marcellus and Cortland – are at home, with only trips to Homer and Central Valley in between. Given all the work done during the summer to bring a new lineup together, Hayes said he is confident the Bears can stay on top.
“It’s important to get chemistry with the new faces, and to learn how to play together,” he said. We’ve got good athletes and we’re prepared. It just comes down to toughness, execution and tackling.”