Monday, August 18, 2008

Collar City Gridders First Day Of Practice

TROY – Thousands of high school football players hit the practice field for the first time on Monday and perhaps none was more excited than Lansingburgh running back Marcus Hepp.

“It’s was exciting because it’s been nine months, maybe ten, and we’re happy to be together,” Hepp said, “we’re a big family. We’re just happy to be one now and we’re going to work as hard as we can, to be the team that we should be.”

Hepp ran for 1,029 yards and scored 14 touchdowns as a junior last season – outstanding numbers by any standard.

But Hepp was only third-best behind Kenny Youngs (1,991 yards) and NyQuan McGirt (1,231), who have both graduated, leaving the Lansingburgh backfield for Hepp.

“I have to step up my game,” he said, “step up everything, because all eyes are focused on me. I see myself as the main leader, so, I just want to step up and be the best leader, the best player I can. I just want to lead my team to however far we can go.”

Lansingburgh running back Marcus Hepp (foreground) waits for the snap during practice at Lansingburgh High School on Monday. (Mike McMahon - The Record)


The Knights also saw veteran leaders such as quarterback Connor Gallo and linebacker Chris Sawyer graduate, but a new group of players are just as hungry.

“They’ve seen the success that guys have had in the past here and they just want to emulate that success,” said Lansingburgh head coach Pete Porcelli. “And that’s going to come with just plain old hard work. That’s what we’re trying to emphasize to the kids now, hustle to everything you’re doing, work hard at every drill, try to impress the coaches and we’ll go from there.”

The Knights scrimmage against Queensbury, Burke Catholic and host Guilderland on Aug. 30 and kick off the regular season against Glens Falls in Lansingburgh on Sept. 5.

“If we do the small things right, the little things right, the wins will take care of themselves,” Porcelli said. “That’s what we’re emphasizing right now are the little things: stances, starts, all that stuff.”

One of those newcomers is Tyler Hammett, who Porcelli puts in the 6-foot-8, 330-pound range. A transfer student, Hammett is a basketball player who is just beginning to learn the ins-and-outs of football.

Lansingburgh player Tyler Hammett (6-foot-8, 330 pounds) dances his way through an agility drill during practice. It the first year the longtime basketball player has tried football and coaches aren't sure yet what position he will play. (Mike McMahon - The Record)

“It’s hard to tell right now who’s going to step up and be the guy,” said Porcelli. “We’ve got some speed back there, we just have to get them in game situations. We definitely have some talent. We look good on paper. But paper you can just take it and throw it away, so everybody’s got something to prove.”

Lansingburgh lineman Daquan Davis does drills at the first day of practice on Monday. (Mike McMahon - The Record)

Hepp, who spent all summer powerlifting and getting in shape, is ready to shoulder the load all by himself this season. But the new players will be helping out soon enough.

“It makes them kind of hungry too, because they made it all in the stands and now they want to live it and be on the field,” said Hepp. “So they’re going to help us get back to that goal and that’s the main goal this year: get back to the dome. So we have to make it happen.”


Lansingburgh head coach Pete Porcelli (left) instructs his players on the first day of practice at the high school on Monday. (Mike McMahon - The Record)


---Cadets Counting on Terrell: Football practice at La Salle starts at 7:59 a.m. sharp. Although the Cadets return senior running back Marquis Terrell, one of The Record’s co-offensive Player of the Year in 2007 on 1,939 yards rushing and 30 touchdowns scored, most of the other starters will be new faces.

The Cadets return only three starters on each side of the ball.

“The rest are all newbies and guys who were JV guys or juniors last year that didn’t get a lot of playing time,” said La Salle head coach Al Rapp. “We’re basically starting from scratch again and I think if we can get our line together, we’ll be competitive.”

Terrell, who averaged 7.1 yards per carry in 2007, scampered for 365 yards and seven touchdowns against Schenectady. But this year, only one fifth of the starting offensive line is back.

“(Marquis) knows the yards early are going to come harder because he doesn’t have that great line he had last year to start with,” Rapp said. “I think our line will be OK, but we just have to bring them together.”

La Salle tailback Marquis Terrell (left) takes a fake handoff from quarterback R.J Williams at the school during the first day of high school practice on Monday morning. (Mike McMahon - The Record)


Quarterback Jared Henkel and linebacker Brian Beuary are among the many players the Cadets will miss and three quarterbacks are battling for the now vacated spot. Two split time on the JV squad in 2007 and another is a transfer student.

The Cadets host Monroe-Woodbury at La Salle on Sept. 19, the team that beat La Salle 42-20 in the Class AA regional. Guilderland, the team the Cadets beat in the final minutes of last year’s AA Super Bowl, is not on the schedule.

La Salle hosts a six-team scrimmage on Aug 30, featuring Gloversville, Marlboro, Peru, Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk and Watervliet.

Althgouh they have some fresh faces, the Cadets feel that a lot of hard work is going to go a long way. And that all starts exactly at 7:59 every day.

“I tell the guys we’re going to start at 7:59 and if you’re later than that, you’re late,” Rapp said. “We stress being punctual here. In fact, we already had a few guys that came in late today that already had to do extras for us. And one of them was one of our big-name guys and he’s just like everybody else.”

The first day of practice always has its headaches – missing equipment, physicals, players learning the basic formations. But every team, even the oft mighty Cadets, have to start somewhere.

“Tomorrow will be a little smoother,” Rapp said, “we’ll be ready to go right at 8…7:59,” he corrected himself, laughing. “We expect them to be here early and working hard. I tell the kids, it doesn’t take talent to be on time and hustle, so if you can do those things, we’re off to a good start.”


---Horses Flying High in Class A: The Troy High Flying Horses had a wonderful offseason, joining with the NFL’s Play it Smart Program and spending a day with New York Giants defensive tackle Jay Alford. On Monday, Troy players got back to the gridiron, that much closer to the beginning of the season.

“There’s been a lot of good things and I said to the guys, all that stuff is nice, but it’s all building towards something,” said Troy head coach Jack Burger. “Hopefully it will make you a better person, a better football player, a better student. I think they believe in what we’re doing.”

The team will also compete in Class A this season, meaning traditional contests against La Salle and Albany will not be played.

“We’re back to some of our traditional rivals, such as Amsterdam and Bishop Maginn,” Burger said. “And we look to build some new rivals in Lansingburgh, Averill Park, schools like that. It’s exciting.”

Players like Zach Dolan, the returning senior quarterback, have the optimism in Troy at an all-time high. The Flying Horses are depending on veteran leadership from Dolan and wide receiver Lashawn Chapman to lead Troy to success in Class A.

“There’s a difference between being average and being good,” Burger said. “Just going the right direction doesn’t make you good. You have to go in the right direction with the right technique and finish things off. Some of the younger guys just aren’t used to the mental part of finishing things off.”

The Troy players have put in the effort with all the lifting, meetings and conditioning they’ve done since the 2007 season ended. It began to pay off on Monday and it will be tested when the Flying Horses host Queensbury in week one on Sept. 6 at Troy High.

“As I tell the guys, you only have control over one thing and that’s your preparation,” Burger said.


---Catholic High Iron Men: 38 players, varsity and junior varsity, came out to practice at Frear Park for Catholic Central on Monday, and small schools do not only deal with a numbers problem, but the size issue too.

“We still have equipment left, but I had to order new equipment,” said Catholic Central head coach Sam Marro. “The equipment we have left fits big guys. The new equipment I’m ordering fits the smaller guys. Everybody that’s coming to us is not as big as they were in the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. We’re a small school, so we have small players.”

Although the Crusders missed the playoffs in 2007, they sent quarterback and defensive back Chris Bouchard to the University at Albany and wide receiver Zayquan Dupree is now playing at Alfred University.

A group of new players are fighting for playing time and the players that win starting spots are unlikely to leave the field. With such a small number of players, the Crusaders play three ways – offense, defense and special teams.

“What we end up doing is we worked them in the offseason to condition them for that,” Marro said. “We worked them hard in the weight room and in our agility program. This is a grind. It’s not unique to just us, every (Class) C school has it.”

A talented trio on the basketball court, Bouchard, Dupree and Gerard Jacques were crucial to the Crusdaers hardcourt team in the winter. With Bouchard and Dupree gone, Jacques is going to be CCHS’ go-to guy in 2008.

“Gerard Jacques has to step in and be our Zayquan,” Marro said. “We’ve got Pat Jansing and Andrew Clement competing at quarterback. I’m not going to put any pressure on them and say you’re the next Chris Bouchard, that’s impossible. Since I’ve been coaching HS football, (Bouchard was) the best quarterback I’ve seen. I just kept feeding him and feeding him and feeding him and he had an appetite to just devour everything you fed him.”

CCHS opens the season at home against pass-happy Fonda-Fultonville, down from Class B a year ago.

---

Let's hear it. Who do you like this year? Why?

--Will Montgomery

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