Thunder clapped around lunchtime today in Westchester. As it would have it, the weather forced a delay in the start of afternoon practice at White Plains High School.
A year ago, Skip Stevens told me, the varsity would’ve scattered in three rooms. If it wasn’t exactly the “25 players, 25 cabs” mentality, it wasn’t good either. That’s why the White Plains coach saw it fit to mention that this year’s team stayed in the same room of the fieldhouse for a little pre-practice bonding.
“The chemistry here is a tremendous,” Stevens said.
The upcoming White Plains season may be the ultimate test for what means more in football: talent or chemistry? The Tigers had talent to spare last season but were ultimately disappointing. They lost their first two games and were bounced in the Class AA quarterfinals despite a spirited effort against New Rochelle.
Now, those players are scattered at colleges and prep schools across the northeast and have left a team decimated by graduation in their wake. Only four starters return: linemen Elijah Young and Robby Lorden and safeties Luke Puff and Tom Bertran.
The way Lorden sees it, maybe that’s for the best.
“It’s honestly better that people doubt us,” Lorden said. “Last year, we had to live up to expectations. Now, no one expects anything from us.”
Especially not against a schedule that starts with Harrison and New Rochelle and includes the likes of North Rockland and Arlington. White Plains would appear to be lucky to compete at all, much less compete for a playoff berth, but the team won’t be a pushover either.
Stevens said the Tigers will return to an I-formation on offense because their strength is in the backfield. Senior Ari Shammery is the top returning runner, but junior Chris Jordan and senior Brandon Williams will contribute as well. Jordan started at point guard late last season for the White Plains basketball team as a sophomore and is powerfully built. Williams actually didn’t play football last season. He’s back now and is unquestionably the fastest player on the 38-man roster.
On Monday, Williams wowed during the morning practice, proving to Stevens that he can be more than just a change-of-pace back.
“He’s a guy who just plays at a different speed,” Stevens said. “He had a big morning today versus most of our No. 1s (on defense). He showed me he could run between the tackles.”
Junior QB Cameron Crabbe has grabbed control as the team’s starter. The two-way threat has proven to the staff that he could lead. He’ll have a handful of junior receivers to work with, including TE/DE Lukas Repetti, a 6-foot-2, 205-pounder who has healed from the broken thumb that shut him down earlier this summer. Senior TE/FB/DE Cesar Cantore will contribute on both sides as well in a similar fashion.
Young and Lorden will anchor the offensive and defensive lines, but White Plains doesn’t appear small up front around them. Stevens noted that several juniors will have a chance to compete for jobs there as well.
White Plains has actively tried to hone its chemistry and blend those new juniors with a group of inexperienced seniors. Several afternoon condition sessions during two-a-days have been in the school’s pool. Stevens has always ended them with free swimming time to give his players a chance to unwind.
He hopes the chemistry this team has built isn’t just a nice subplot to the season. He hopes it produces results, too.
“I hope that’s going to help us get over the top on big plays,” Stevens said. “We’re very unselfish.”