Here’s my story from Champions Camp on Wednesday night:
NEW ROCHELLE — The last 12 months were among the best New Rochelle’s athletic department had ever experienced. Featured prominently in that stretch was the football team’s second state championship, a somewhat surprising run fueled by names who became synonymous with the purple and white, but especially with gold. It seemed anytime Joe Clarke, Khalil Edney and the rest of the Huguenot stars played under bright lights, it ended with New Rochelle hoisting more hardware.
So much has happened since last summer that it’s easy to forget New Rochelle began Champions Camp last August with none of that. The Huguenots were hungry to erase past disappointments and had plenty of strides to make.
Although this year’s team returns just three starters, camp isn’t all that different for the reigning Class AA state champs.
“I don’t know if you watched our first three games last year that anybody would’ve thought we’d be the state champions,” New Rochelle coach Lou DiRienzo said. “So there’s no panic here. These guys are working hard and we have good numbers, so I’m pretty excited.”
The contrast is stark nonetheless. Last year’s team returned a large chunk of its starters from 2011, the year the program ended its five-year reign as Section 1 champs. This year, the list of returning starters pales by comparison.
Junior Jon Forrest leads the veterans as a returning starter at fullback and inside linebacker.
Junior Corey Holder emerged during the postseason run as a dominant presence along the defensive line. Senior Tajmir Anderson started at cornerback and David Hudson earned a few starts at inside linebacker while Shayne Forbes recovered from an injury.
Everyone else of consequence is gone, but the Huguenots won’t waste time reminiscing about what they had.
“Not really,” Holder said. “That’s in the past and we have to move on.”
Two seniors who served as understudies are expected to replace a pair of standouts. Quarterback Nas Sinkfield-Shelton and halfback/safety Cameron White often shadowed Edney and playmaker Jason Ceneus, respectively, and will assume many of their responsibilities.
Demetrius Rodriquez (a tight end and linebacker), Quincy Mack (a running back and linebacker) and Michael Pino (a lineman) are among those who have already done their best to claim playing time.
Pino’s strength pushed the Huguenots to win last Saturday’s lineman challenge at Spring Valley.
“It’s looking good. We have a lot of new players, but we expect to be in the same position we were in last year,” Forrest said. “We’re going to take it practice by practice, game by game, and see where that takes us. We’ve had a long run of winning sectional championships in the past and we have a great group of guys coming up from the (junior varsity).”
DiRienzo — a man who preaches technique and enjoys coaching minutiae — has continued to stress patience, a virtue that has served the program well during past rebuilds.
“I never look at the big picture,” he said. “People think I’m giving them lip service. My goal is to be better today than we were yesterday and be better tomorrow than we were today. If you look all the way down the road, you lose sight, you lose focus. We’re just trying to get better every day, every week and even throughout the season.”
Check out my video, which includes highlights of New Rochelle’s Jon Forrest and Corey Holder; Harrison’s Mike Amicucci and Jake Marino; and Woodlands’ Tyrone Barber: