Thursday, September 4, 2008

Class AA Preview

William Montgomery
The Record

ALBANY – The Shaker Blue Bison and the Columbia Blue Devils were both singing the blues a year ago - the teams compiled identical 1-8 overall records. But changes are in store for both programs because talented underclassmen are looking to bring their junior varsity success to the big stage.

The Shaker varsity football team had a year to forget in 2007, as illustrated by a seven-game losing streak to end the season. But behind the scenes, the Blue Bison were making exceptional progress, as Shaker's junior varsity team won the Section II JV Super Bowl. Now, 25 juniors and one sophomore join 25 seniors on a team eager to turn the page.

"We definitely have something to prove playing in Class AA," said senior captain Nick Huban during Sunday’s Media Day at the University at Albany. "Not many people take us as a serious contender, but we're looking to turn some heads."

Huban, a running back and linebacker, is one of the seniors that led the charge in accepting the junior varsity players as new teammates. A rift between the junior and senior players in 2007 derailed communication on the field, causing sloppy play and derision in the locker room.

Common ground for the Blue Bison, as it is for most football players, was found in the weight room. Although many Shaker students are busy playing spring and summer sports as well, the weight room became a year-round meeting place where team chemistry came to a boil.

"The first thing that they learned was getting it done in the weight room," said Shaker head coach Dennis Bender. "The seniors we have now are part of that weight room for a while and that camaraderie came together real quick. Our offseason program was tremendous, the best we ever had in our program."

Bender mixed in a series of internal combines and lifting competitions, creating a sense of friendly competition that was met with enthusiasm from the players.
Shaker senior quarterback/defensive back Mark Ambrosio. (Tom Killips - The Record)

"After our last game (in 2007) all the juniors got on one bus and the seniors all got on another bus," said Mark Ambrosio, Shaker's senior quarterback. "Our coaches really let us have it, telling us we really need to get in the weight room and we need to get better and we need to start communicating with the junior varsity."

One of those JV players was Jaquell Chandler, who immediately shined in his first two weeks of practice on the varsity level and was named a team captain for the 2008 season.

Shaker junior running back/defensive back Jaquell Chandler. (Tom Killips - The Record)

"One thing we learned was how to be a family," the junior running back said. "We came together as a family as a JV squad and getting to know the guys a year ahead of us we came together as a family too."

Family certainly is the theme this year in Latham. Ambrosio's father, Mike, is the head coach of the varsity team at Colonie High but is taking the year off to spend time watching Mark play for Shaker.

Tonight, Shaker plays host to Newburgh Free Academy of Section IX, the second-largest school in New York with 3,022 students in grades nine, ten and eleven. Shaker, by comparison, has 1,553 students in grades nine through eleven.

"They are very good, they're athletic," Bender said of Newburgh. "Those guys can run and hit. It's going to be a challenge for us, but we welcome that challenge."

Newburgh is part of a two-school football dynasty in Class AA play in Section IX. Either Newburgh or Monroe-Woodbury has won the sectional title every year since 1996.

But the Blue Bison are not worried with Newburgh's past success – in fact, they simply refuse to be impressed with their own.

"One thing (our coaches) told us was that everything that happened last year doesn't matter," Chandler said. "Everything that happened with the (JV) Super Bowl, yes we got a win, but that doesn't matter. We definitely have something to prove and we're hoping to show it."

New turf, new outlook at Columbia: The Blue Devils are breaking in a brand-new artificial turf field and much like Shaker, they hope incoming junior varsity players can make the difference. Two seasons ago, the Columbia JV team went 8-1 and earned a berth in the JV Super Bowl.

Now, those players are reunited on the varsity level and senior quarterback Bobby Smith is much more confident with another year of experience under his belt.

"The biggest thing for me this year is that I have much more faith in my teammates," Smith said. "It's definitely a big step for me. I have matured more and I've learned a lot more. My coaches and teammates are expecting me to be a leader and much more relaxed and calm for each game."

Columbia senior quarterback Bobby Smith. (Tom Killips - The Record)

The Blue Devils return a solid core of players, with eight offensive starters and six defensive players returning.

"They're hungry," said Columbia head coach Anthony Servidone. "They got beat up last year and they did something about it in the offseason. We had a good core of kids that really committed to the weight room."

Columbia hosts Niskayuna tonight in an interesting Liberty Division matchup between teams that both struggled a year ago.

"Everyone is enjoying each other and having a good time this season and I think team chemistry is a big deal for all of us," Smith said. "Everyone that was there (on JV in 2006) is back and we're expecting some big things."


Two minute drill

Players to watch

Marquis Terrell, senior running back, La Salle, 5-8, 170

Few players return from a La Salle team that won the Section II title in 2007 – but the Cadets are thankful to have Terrell back. He ran for 1,926 yards last year and will likely get the ball more than ever as a senior.

Marc Thompson, senior running back, Schenectady, 5-11, 190

Scampered for 1,695 and 15 scores as a junior, should be a nightmare for opposing defenses all year long yet again.

Mark Seager, junior quarterback, Ballston Spa, 5-10, 160

Led the Scotties on an inspired, 7-2 underdog run in 2007 and his leadership will be counted upon again in 2008.

Devan Vanauken, senior lineman, Guilderland, 6-3, 256

Collected 2.5 sacks in Guilderland’s wildly successful 8-2 season in 2007. Will be a nightmare for quarterbacks all season long.

Colin Mulholland, senior quarterback, Saratoga Springs, 6-2, 192

Ascended to the starting spot when starter Jimmy Minogue was injured in 2007. Mulholland and the Blue Streaks are the preseason consensus pick to win the Empire Division.

Steve Brown, senior lineman, Shenendehowa, 6-4, 250

The Plainsmen field a young team with only 14 seniors on the roster, but Brown and fellow lineman Peter White will anchor the line and provide leadership to the younger players.

Alex Tesoriero, junior running back/linebacker, Columbia, 5-9, 195

Tesoriero, a team captain, is a valuable player for the Blue Devils because of his versatility on offense, defense and special teams. He is also Columbia’s kicker.

Gregg Rahn, senior wide receiver/defensive back, Niskayuna, 5-10, 180

Another do-it-all player, Rahn is part of a strong senior class for the Silver Warriors.

Sean Murphy, senior running back, Bethlehem, 5-10, 195

Picked up 499 yards and 9 TDs as a junior and hopes to carry the load as the Eagles look to complete in a wide-open Class AA.

Andrew Vivian, senior quarterback CBA, 6-0, 170

Threw for over 500 yards as a junior and the Brothers, while few in number, aim to be very competitive in the Empire Division.

Preseason poll


1. Schenectady – One star running back can make all the difference and the Patriots have one of the most talented in the section in Marc Thompson. Thompson had a pair of monster games as a junior on a mediocre team, picking up 411 yards against Mohonasen and 381 against
Niskayuna a year ago. The gameplan for slowing Schenectady is simple, but until defenses can corral Thompson, the Patriots are the team to beat.
2. Saratoga - The Blue Streaks didn't live up to expectations a season ago, crippled by a series of injuries to key players.
3. La Salle – Marquis Terrell ran for 1,926 yards as a junior and although 4/5ths of his starting offensive line graduated, is poised for a tremendous senior year. The reigning Section II champions have the tools, including wide receiver Mike Blais, but all the new players need to gel in a hurry to be competitive in the Liberty Division.
4. Shenendehowa – Head coach Brent Steurwald is ten wins away from 300 career victories and what an honor it would be for him to earn that in his 41st year at the helm in Clifton Park. He is the only football coach in the history of the Shenendehowa program. Only 14 seniors suit up for the Plainsmen this season, so the underclassmen will play a huge role.
5. Ballston Spa – The Scotties went 7-2 in 2007 and about half the starters return, including junior quarterback Mark Seager. They're a tight, close-knit team and it shows on the field - the undermanned Ballston Spa squad will need to utilize that to their advantage again in 2008.

Class AA Week One Schedule

Friday, Sept. 5

Empire Division

Albany at CBA, 7 p.m.

Saratoga Springs at Ballston Spa, 7 p.m.

Guilderland at Bethlehem, 7 p.m.

Liberty Division

Colonie at La Salle, 7 p.m.

Niskayuna at Columbia, 7 p.m.

Non-division

Shenendehowa at Schenectady, 7 p.m.

Newburgh Free Academy at Shaker, 7 p.m.

CLASS AA 2007 Standings

League Overall

W-L W-L

Empire Division

Guilderland 6-1 8-2

Ballston Spa 6-1 7-2

Shenendehowa 6-1 7-2

Christian Brothers Acad. 3-4 3-6

Bethlehem 2-5 4-5

Saratoga Springs 2-5 4-5

Albany 2-5 3-6

Queensbury 1-6 2-7

Liberty Division

LaSalle Institute 6-0 9-2

Troy 5-1 7-2

Colonie 4-2 5-4

Schenectady 3-3 5-4

Niskayuna 2-4 2-6

Shaker 1-5 1-8

Columbia 0-6 1-8

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