My fourth and final stop on Friday was at Croton Point Park. Thunder chased the defending Class B champs back to the high school gym, although that is hardly an excuse for why it took so long to post my report on them.
Of course, better late than never, or so I hope, and that’s probably a good place to start. Hope is something you’ll find in large supply up in Croton, where the Tigers return to defend their title with a ridiculous amount of talent back. Gone is their splendid backfield of HB Matt Tralli and FB Kevin Soares. Back is…well…just about everybody else.
That group begins with a core four of potential college recruits: G/DT Dennis O’Connell, G/LB Kyle Ricciardi, QB/S Jesse Mainiero and T/DT John Brennan. All four were among the best at their position in Class B last season and should be again. O’Connell has already made an oral commitment to Byrant College and his teammates could all play at the next level as well.
But what makes Croton a resounding favorite in Class B (in my mind) is the depth of its talent. Even behind its four stars are players fast approaching that level. Junior OL/DL Alex Bowser is another returning starter up front. TE/LB Tyler Gilman joined him in the starting lineup and G/LB Matt Gennerelli — whose dad played at Rutgers — moved into that group late in the season during Croton’s playoff run. And they all could be trumped by Tralli’s primary replacement, junior Nick Grous.
Grous, you probably remember, suffered a ruptured spleen in the Class B championship game against Westlake. He was rushed to the hospital and survived a scare, but he has since returned to full health. That’s good news for Croton, which saw him gain 255 yards and score four TDs last season on just 25 touches, and play outstanding D.
Grous will become the primary HB this season and likely shift into Tralli’s role as a OLB/CB. Brennan and coach John Catano both raved about Grous’ performance this summer. “We went to a 7 on 7 at John Jay and he looked unbelievable,” Brennan said.
Two will fill open positions on the offensive line: senior Matt Doughty and sophomore Alec Parloff. Brian Soares and Lucas Garcia, a Kennedy transfer, are among those in line to fill other positions and namely at FB, although there may be help there. Catano has debated the idea of shifting Ricciardi, a four-year starter, into the backfield where he would be quite the force to contend with.
When I asked Catano about teams that worry him most, it was hard to point to any one in particular. Certainly, Westlake returns several key pieces, but not nearly as many as Croton. He said Nanuet always scares him because its offense is difficult to prepare for. And Lourdes is a big team that continues to improve, at least based on reports out of Dutchess.
Perhaps the lack of a serious challenger is what makes Croton seem so unbeatable. But don’t suggest that to Catano, who has tried to keep his players focused on Week 1 against Kennedy.
Catano admitted there is a burden this season to live up to great expectations. Croton was forced to play through them in 2009 after reaching the Class C championship game the previous season.
Right now, Syracuse is three months away. The Tigers hope to treat it as such.
“Of course everybody wants to get to Syracuse, but if you don’t take care of everybody in between first, you won’t get there,” Catano said.