The similarities between Pleasantville and its rival Briarcliff are stunningly apparent on first glance. When I walked onto Parkway Field about an hour ago, I realized the only familiar name/face was the coach. I soon found out why.
The Panthers reached the Class B final in 2008 and seemed to be a likely contender in 2009. They had 17 seniors in uniform, including the dominant tandem of Jack Bramswig and Nolan Robinson.
Well, a year after their run fell short in the semifinals because of an incredible effort on the ground from Sleepy Hollow, the same Panthers are retooling. Their jump ball days of Robinson to Bramswig are over, replaced by the old and reliable power game.
Who will operate that power game remains a mystery. We’ll get to that in a bit. But Pleasantville coach Tony Becerra was clearly unnerved by last year’s gouging at the hands (really, the feet) of Sleepy. He pursed his lips and said, “We need to put the focus back on defense.”
No matter what side of the ball you mention, Becerra has few returning players to work with. The four captains all played last year and will fill major roles this year: TE/DE Conor Fraylick, TE/LB Eric Akalski, FB/NG Anthony Fortino, and FB/DT Michael Lanza.
Lanza will move from guard to fullback this year and earn his share of carries. That leaves another returning player, junior Michael Minerva, as the only real returning offensive lineman.
Two juniors will compete for the QB position, but both could play. They’re very different. John Conway is tall and more of a classic dropback thrower. Danny Schulman doesn’t remind you of a typical QB, but he’s a runner who will be an asset running the Wing-T.
The defense will return a couple players who join the captains and wreak some havoc. Stetson Bates emerged late in the season at CB, but another breakout player is Jordan Carty. He started as a sophomore but didn’t play in ‘09, partly due to injury. Carty could contribute as a running back and defensive end.
Despite the players that are in place, it was clear Pleasantville faces plenty of uncertainty. I knew within a few minutes that Becerra probably won’t really know this team until a few weeks into the regular season. What really tipped me off was when I asked him to name a few younger players he hopes will contribute.
“A lot of them,” he said. “They have to.”
Two guys he mentioned were senior HB/CB Skyler Leen and sophomore HB/S Nick Greto. But with the numbers of open positions in the depth chart, they will have company soon. Very soon.
Despite the inexperience, the Panthers have a streak they hope to continue. They’ve won a league championship the last three years, but Becerra knows: “No one expects us to get back there.”
“I told my guys, I don’t have to tell you your identity,” he added. “People have already decided it for you. No one expects anything from us.”
Maybe. At least not yet.