With eight days remaining until football practice opens across Section 1, here’s a look at eight questions I have for the beginning of training camps:
1. Who is best prepared for the Class A grind?
No question about it, Class A is Section 1’s most competitive class. The schedule is brutal, and teams will need to be prepared to face it Week 1. There is no grace period. Look at last year. By Week 2 or 3, Poughkeepsie and John Jay had established themselves as contenders. Other teams surged — Rye, in particular, got very hot late in the season — but what proved to be a deep, balanced class still saw the favorites play for the championship.
The truth is, you could say the same thing about Harrison and Greeley in 2010. Yes, Harrison faltered against Rye late that year, but both teams started strong and finished strong. Class A is just too tough to: A. Play on the road in the playoffs, and, B. Rely on a late winning streak. (And we all know the injury-friendly three games in 11 days does not help…)
2. Who is ready to challenge the inevitable New Rochelle-North Rockland Class AA clash?
No doubt that with the tradition of the programs and the amount of talent both return, New Rochelle and North Rockland are the favorites in Class AA. What I’m interested to see is which team or teams emerge to challenge them. You KNOW it will happen. It always happens. Every year, no matter how strong a team appears, there’s almost always a challenger there to push it, especially at the higher enrollment levels.
Keep your eye on the Clarkstowns — North and South — and on Arlington and John Jay. I can see two of those four qualifying for the playoffs. And, if you’re in it, you can win it.
3. Retool or rebuild — where do the defending champs stand?
It’s always difficult to maintain a high level of play months after a championship season. Seniors often drive the area’s top teams. Naturally, that leaves the program with gaping holes to fill the next season.
North Rockland, Poughkeepsie, Croton, Dobbs and Haldane all have key players to replace. For North Rockland and Croton, the holes are primarily up front. Dobbs, Poughkeepsie and Haldane have more to replace, especially Dobbs, which lost key players in just about every area. But while you’re watching how they recover, remember this: Programs are strong for a reason. So expect the defending champs to make plenty of noise.
4. How will the increase of spread offenses impact Section 1 football?
Every year, more teams expand their offensive sets. This year, traditionally run-only offenses like Harrison and Pleasantville plan to move players away from center to take advantage of their talent. Top quarterbacks at New Rochelle, Scarsdale and Arlington, among others, could cause a similar shift in their play calling. Expect scoring to continue to increase as teams look for ways to test opposing defenses.
5. How will new coaching staffs adjust, and how will their teams adjust to them?
Chris Wagner has resurfaced at Hastings. Justin Longobardi has replaced a longtime coach at Pelham. Ed Mulvihill has another challenge at Brewster. Those are among the new faces in charge of winning amid some high expectations.
I’ll also have my eye on second-year coaches like Phil Carbone at Nanuet and Mike Ramponi at Nyack. Their teams should be better adjusted to a new style in year two. Carbone told me his team revamped its offense last season. This year’s team is already much more in tune with what Nanuet wants to do.
6. Can the champions of summer carry over their momentum?
You’ve heard me and others rave about teams like Harrison and Woodlands, which have had terrific summers. But can they carry that success into camp and the start of the season? (Ya know, when it counts…)
I believe in both, but beware of summer success. Roosevelt shined at Champions Camp and during preseason scrimmages two years ago and was blitzed in its opener by Harrison. Last year, Harrison looked sharp early but had an up and down season. On the flip side, Clarkstown South was sharp in camp and carried it right through to late October. North Rockland wasn’t and ended up winning a championship.
7. What players will take the next step?
There are Super 11 candidates who were clearly among the best players a year ago. But there are always several players who join those returning stars by making major impacts. In many cases, they are simply a year older and a year stronger. But they are also players who earn a statistical boost because their role changes from contributing piece to go-to guy.
The area is filled with such candidates. New Rochelle sophomore Jon Forrest is a great example now that he’s slotted to play fullback full-time. Count North Rockland’s Nick Connell as one of those players as well. Last year, Connell starred on defense but was mostly a late-game change-of-pace back. He’s the man now for the Red Raiders. So are Thomas Lent and Ryan McManus, all-league players who will no longer be overshadowed by Frank Tucek.
Who are players you expect to emerge as superstars?
8. Is this the last year Section 1 teams will face a competitive disadvantage?
By the time next Friday comes around, the rest of the state will have held four days of practice. Sure, it gives Section 1 players and coaches four more days to work on their tans, but it also leaves them behind the rest of the state. As we know, four more days on the beach also means one the following: one fewer regular season game, one fewer round of playoffs or one extra playoff game crammed into a two-week, three-round playoff. All three hurt the Section 1 players to some degree.
I don’t think we’ll have an answer to the above question immediately. In fact, don’t expect to hear one way or the other for weeks or months. But it’s something to ponder. This might be the last season Section 1 put itself at a disadvantage. At least, that’s what coaches and players hope.