My first stop on the camp tour came at Nyack High School, where 32-year-old Mike Ramponi takes over for Section 1 coaching legend John Castellano, who won 180 games and two state championships in 23 years as the Nyack coach. Castellano, as you know, left this summer to coach the defensive line at national power Don Bosco Prep, and Nyack quickly moved to hire Ramponi, a Tappan Zee graduate who has served as one of Castellano’s assistants and as the varsity head basketball coach the last four seasons. (A job he has since resigned from.)
Ramponi has been the man in charge for about two months, but that is all the time he’s had to mold the Indians, who were behind other programs after a quiet, uncertain spring. Making matters more troubling for Ramponi is that he’s charged with not only replacing a legend, but also 16 or 17 starters, including all 11 on offense.
Midway through this morning’s workout, offense remained his primary focus. “Right now, our offensive line, they’re all inexperienced and have only had playing time as backups,” Ramponi said. “That’s our main concern.”
Given the turnover on the sideline and on the field, Nyack’s transition to more of a spread offense remains largely on hold. But Ramponi sees a series of players who can speed up the learning curve.
Raydell Williams will return at QB, where he started a handful of games late last season. Williams is small in stature but his experience was pivotal. “He’s cool, calm and very intelligent,” Ramponi said. “He understands our system. That takes a lot of pressure off me.”
The halfback position is well-stocked, most notably with Paul Mitchell, a senior who was the No. 3 player in that rotation last season, and senior Jamel Jones. Williams will be paired with senior Shaun Lane and newcomer Khalid Shabazz, a junior up from the JV who Ramponi called a “fantastic athlete” and a potential breakout star.
The fullback position will undoubtedly be the toughest to replace with the loss of county player of the year Donnie Davis. Two of the five returning starters on defense, SS Will Smith and LB Derwhon Bartley, will be in the mix. As will a new face, Spring Valley transfer Ronald Lewis, a FB/LB who started for the Tigers last season but has moved back home to Nyack.
Smith, Bartley, Mitchell and Lewis will all join DL Brenton Fitzgibbon and DE/LB Quincy Vassar. Vassar, a senior, is a potential star, who showed great promise on defense as a junior. He’ll play plenty at receiver as well.
I spoke to both Vassar and Jones, who said the team expects to keep Nyack at its traditional level, which is as a playoff team that competes with the very best in Class A.
In the end, I asked Ramponi if he has felt pressure replacing Castellano, who he worked under the last six years as an assistant.
“Yeah, there’s always pressure replacing someone like Cas, but I’ve been so busy with so many things getting ready for the season that I haven’t had much time to think about it,” Ramponi said.