When the Class A brackets were finalized last October, two teams on the outside looking in became major symbols of the imperfection inherent in Section 1’s playoff structure: Yorktown and John Jay. I paid visits to both schools this afternoon and found them in very different situations. While Yorktown has several key players back and optimism was high, John Jay has seen its roster decimated by key losses to graduation and injuries to its most important players…
You may think of Yorktown for what it lost — and mostly because Nick Mariano was so good at QB, it’s hard to imagine the team without him. But even though Mariano is gone, the ‘Huskers are in better position than you’d expect. In fact, much better.
They return the majority of last year’s offensive weapons from a 6-2 team, including senior running back/safety Eric Meyreles (pictured above), who is poised for a breakout year. Meyreles is a terrific athlete who plays with plenty of swagger — a confidence that he looked more than capable of living up to.
He’ll have quite a bit of help in the backfield as Yorktown transitions to a more complicated offensive scheme that coach Mike Rescigno said will present various looks to defenses. Consider that the team’s returning backs rushed for 1,551 yards and 17 touchdowns combined last season with Meyreles leading the way with 727 yards and six scores.
Helping to add to a potent offense will be returning backs Austin Fusco and Nicky Bonitatibus, who both earned plenty of carries last year. They’ll also be joined by 6-foot-2, 190-pound fullback Connor Vercruysse, who is in his third year of varsity. Expect speedy senior Kris Alvarado to earn his share of chances to break big plays.
That strong backfield could have help from two different quarterbacks. Senior Anthony Petagine and junior Ryan Baker both offer different skill sets, but they could compliment one another. Don’t be surprised if both find time on the field. Their top options will be junior wide receiver Dan Delbene and bullish senior tight end Ricky Corrado, who, like Meyreles, Fusco, Bonitatibus and Vercruysse, is a two-way player and will be integral in the team’s success.
Yorktown should be explosive. The athleticism is there, and the team has depth that would allow it to survive inevitable injuries. In fact, other than QB, the ‘Huskers’ play up front could determine how much of a playoff threat they are.
Rescigno has been known for producing good offensive lines during his stint at Yorktown, but the team lost four of its five starters from a year ago. The only true returning starter is senior Genti Muriqi, a tackle. Senior Dom Dinotte started the opener but was injured and missed the rest of the season. He’ll earn snaps at tackle, but the middle of the line remains a work in progress.
“That’s the key — and they know it, too,” Rescigno said.
For one of the section’s larger Class A schools, numbers have been modest at John Jay for the last few years, hovering somewhere in the mid to high 20s. The Indians are at the low end of that total again this year, which would be manageable save for one problem. OK…three problems.
John Jay spent much of Tuesday practicing without — or with limited availability from — three of its top returning players. Senior lineman Etnik Rraci, a physical specimen at 6-foot-3, 270 pounds, was limited as he nursed a bad back. His availability for the beginning of the season is in a jeopardy, and Rraci is a key piece of both the offensive and defensive lines.
The Indians have also been mostly without new starting quarterback Ryan Lee (pictured right) this camp. The junior, who is expected to be an electric run-pass threat in the mold of one of last year’s stars, Jack Lambert, broke the thumb on his throwing hand playing lacrosse earlier this summer. Lee has played some receiver, defense and returning kicks while his thumb is immobilized, but he took a few snaps late in practice at QB. He even threw left-handed, but his availability at the position also remains a mystery. Right now, sophomore Hunter Keech has taken the majority of snaps with the starting offense. He’s the younger brother of last year’s starter Tyler Keech.
Making matters even worse for John Jay has been the absence of junior Vince Foti, who earned playing time at running back and linebacker last year and would be a key piece in the middle of the defense. He has a balky shoulder and did not participate in practice.
Rraci, Lee and Foti represent roughly 25 percent of John Jay’s starting 22, leaving the team shorthanded without them. The remaining offensive line — anchored by junior Alex Katchedorian and senior Roan Myer, among others — has little depth and can’t afford another injury. Senior Jordan Zimiles should be strong at middle linebacker, but John Jay will have to rely on contributions from several players with little varsity experience, including senior RB/S Nick Kells, the younger Keech and senior WR Sloan Maidoff.
“I love our kids. They have a tremendous work attitude,” coach Jimmy Clark said. “But it’s a combination of we lost some really good seniors to graduation and we had some big injuries.”
Lastly, you can add John Jay to the ever increasing list of teams shifting to more of a Pistol offense this year. Clark said the formation gives defenses more difficulty when lining up. The offense can also run more variations out of basic Pistol sets — spread looks, option runs, quick pass plays — without having to disguise them.