I spent last night over in Rockland and stopped by two events — the Block and Tackle camp at Clarkstown South and the weekly 7 on 7 held up the road at Clarkstown North. It gave me a chance to check in a little on six of the county’s 10 teams. Only Suffern, Ramapo and Tappan Zee weren’t in action Tuesday; even Pearl River was deep into its Florida trip, which was scheduled to end today.
Here’s a few quick thoughts on the teams going into August:
The first team that caught my eye at South was Nyack. Actually, maybe I should say the Indians caught my ear. Their pads were smacking together loudly during drills Tuesday afternoon, especially the boys up front. Not surprisingly, when I spoke to him during a break in action, Mike Ramponi said the line looked like a strength.
Look no further than a pair of big returnees: Stanley Dragon and Charles Francois. Both have added to their frames from a season ago. They are harder and stronger, and will anchor a line with the majority of its starters back. Dragon will be among the biggest players in the section at 310 pounds.
They will be fortified by one of the section’s top returning tight ends in Dashawn Rodriguez and a pair of starting linebackers who will share the load at fullback. One is Derwhon Bartley, who is now in his third season as a major varsity contributor. The other will one day say the same. That’s Adonis Alcime, who, as a sophomore, is already a physically imposing player.
Nyack will break in new players at QB and at every position in its secondary. Ramponi understands his team is under the radar after a tough 2011 that including heartbreaking losses to Pearl River and Somers, but perhaps it shouldn’t be. Either way, the schedule is not easy. The Indians open with Ossining and Brewster before drawing a rematch with Somers. They’ll be forced to play well immediately.
CLARKSTOWN SOUTH —
For a team that emerged last season, seemingly from nowhere, South returns plenty of pieces. That run to the Class AA semifinals was propelled by the seniors, but also by contributions from several juniors, including a number of returning all-county players. That group is led by QB Ryan McManus and RB Thomas Lent, but also by a pair of two-way linemen, Mark Annunziato and Raymond Manfredi, and the county’s best returning kicker, Shane Cronin. All five were all-county players a year ago as juniors.
Lent was the team’s second-leading rusher last season and is among Class AA’s most accomplished returning players. He, McManus and the rest of South’s skill players will have some blockers in place, but coach Mike Scarpelli said a couple undecided areas on the line of scrimmage still need to be fortified. The offensive line remains his biggest offseason concern, although the rest of the team remains strong.
A couple of players who stick out as potential difference makers are Zach Johnson and Hassan Auwater. They contributed last season and have the athleticism to do even more.
For Nanuet, it wasn’t so much about who did what last season. Coach Phil Carbone — the longtime assistant who took over for Rich Conklin — faced a major challenge in revamping the team’s offensive system. Carbone sought a return to the sort of power football that once thrived under Conklin. His team still ran the option last year and will continue to incorporate that and other facets into its play, but the primary focus has shifted to power running. That meant teaching players new terminology and new blocking schemes, and it required some effort.
Carbone also wanted to strengthen his team, which played competitive football with Class B’s giants (Croton and Lourdes) only to find itself overwhelmed as the games wore on. “Even our big guys weren’t strong,” Carbone said, before noting how the team’s offseason conditioning program has changed that.
Nanuet should be a bigger, stronger and more experienced team than last year, when it finished 3-6. All-county linebackers Liam Reilly and Pete Smith and defensive back Nick O’Connor will anchor the defense. QB Ryan Hanney and RB Dan Breit will be the main stalwarts on offense.
Hanney, of course, is the third member of his family to start at quarterback. He played the entire season as a sophomore before going down late with an injury and is already in his third season as a varsity contributor. He moved up as a freshman to play defensive back, but this is his team now. Carbone believed Hanney will be better prepared mentally after watching the example set by older brother, Tom, who recently left Wagner and its football team to enlist in the Marines.
NORTH ROCKLAND —
A team I really wanted to watch in action ended up watching from the sidelines. North Rockland was one of three teams at Tuesday night’s 7 on 7 at North, technically, but the defending Class AA champ didn’t have enough players to participate.
As I said earlier this summer and remains true now, the Red Raiders’ season could be determined by the play of their linemen. The same area plagued them prior to last season, but a group of unheralded seniors find their rhythm at some point during their Week 2 win over White Plains and never looked back. The line went from a major weakness to a strength.
This year, North Rockland has very little experience up front outside of Joey Scheffold, a returning all-county player on defense. The difference, I’m told, is that last year’s linemen had experience from 2010 even if it was something they’d prefer to forget. This year’s group will be largely a new one.
A major positive defensively is the expected presence of Eric Favors. The sophomore had perhaps more impact than any freshman in the section last year. He didn’t just fill a hole on defense, he stuffed them. It spoke to a bright future that St. Joe’s of Montvale wanted to unfold on its turf, but Favors has remained at North Rockland. He has attended every summer workout and appears poised to remain at the school.
North Rockland also expects to turn to junior Nick Imperato to replace Devin Bovino at QB. Imperato’s name — and YouTube highlight tape — has been bandied about previously on this blog. Now, he’ll get his chance for a team with very high aspirations.
CLARKSTOWN NORTH —
A few readers have suggested this could be a down year for the Rams, but the more you dig, the more that seems like the wishful thinking of rival fans. Yes, North will be without Travis Samuels, who was one of the county’s top players last year, but it returns about half its starters on offense and defense.
Billy DeLay and Eddie Ruckel are both two-way players who were big playmakers at linebacker and can run the ball. Anthony Termine was among the top players at Rockland’s HSPD camp early this summer and an all-county lineman last season.
The Rams have a penchant for playing players both ways out of necessity. At times last season, injuries to Samuels and co. cost them. But remember: They beat North Rockland and were right there with South late in the season. They could be again.
SPRING VALLEY — Of all the teams I saw on Tuesday, Spring Valley appears to be the one most in transition. Coach Andrew Delva had a big turnout for the 7 on 7 and has his team’s camp coming up on Thursday. He said there is talent there, but much of it is inexperienced. I keep talking about all-county players from last season. Well, the Tigers return none of theirs.
I’ve seen Delva a couple times this summer. He has said he likes the attitude and work ethic of his players. It will be tested against a deep Class A field.