I’m sitting in the Moonbeam Cafe in Briarcliff right now as I write this after having stopped by quickly to visit the Bears. They were starting their afternoon session of practice so I didn’t get to see them on the field, but I can tell you the obvious: they lost a lot to graduation.
The grand total was 16 seniors — an enormous amount for a team that played Class C up until not too long ago. Among the graduates were several key players: RB Jake Schlanger, FB Kyle Roth, QB Jamie Kaltner and four of the five offensive linemen.
In all, Briarcliff has just 23 players on its roster and head coach John Consorti said the numbers are low in the freshman and sophomore classes. But what does return is about half of last year’s starting defense, and in that unit lies some hope.
Four key players return in the front seven: Seniors LB Garret Lederman, LB Hanbin Wang and monster back Mike Spitalieri and junior DE Andrew Goldstein. Jon Marrero and sophomore Ryan Huegel return after earning some playing time at defensive back and junior Ryan Hooper will play some defensive end. The third and last of the Orr brothers — junior Colin Orr — will slot in at DB.
“We’re much more confident in our defense than our offense right now,” Consorti said.
Hooper will play a key role in the Bears’ very balanced offense. He’ll take over at QB for Kaltner and will deal with a completely rebuild offensive line. Only Lederman returns from last year’s starters, but he’ll shift from center to fullback and tight end. Marrero, one of only two or three offensive starters returning, is the top receiving option for Hooper.
The bulk of the carries will probably go to Lederman and Goldstein at fullback and Huegel at tailback, Consorti said. Three blockers slotted to protect them and Hooper are Wang, junior Brendan O’Connor and senior Max Winter.
“Most of our skill guys and our line has graduated,” Consorti said. “A lot of these players didn’t get much of an opportunity last year. We need to be able to run the ball. Hooper is a new quarterback, so we need to be able to take some of the stress off of him.”
With just six seniors and little depth, Briarcliff will face some challenges. But the Bears find themselves in a similar position to several league foes, like Plesantville, Westlake and Kennedy, which were all hurt by graduation as well.
“I think we’re ready to step up and make the adjustments we need to make,” Lederman said. “I don’t really think anybody in this league is bigger or better than us.”