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Journal news article on opening of 2007 season

Posted Monday, August 20, 2007 by Journal News

Ten things high school football fans should know

(Original publication: August 20, 2007)
One of the most anticipated days on the high school sports calendar has finally arrived.

Preseason football camps open this morning across the Lower Hudson Valley. While most schools have been holding private workouts and attended combines and team camps throughout the summer, today is the first day official practices are allowed by the state.

"It's pretty tough to sleep the night before," Sleepy Hollow senior Trent Bronner said. "You've got your mind running all night, thinking about practice and about the season. You're just waiting for it to start."

There's always anticipation.

"I've already had the same crazy dream for a few nights that I have every year," John Jay coach Jimmy Clark said. "It's the same dream: I show up on the first day, and none of the kids are here. It started (Friday) night. It's amazing, you still have the same butterflies and anxieties that you had your first year."

All those worries aside, the first day of camp is when the five reigning Section 1 champs - New Rochelle, Harrison, Rye, Dobbs Ferry and Tuckahoe - begin working on their title defenses. And for Dobbs Ferry and Tuckahoe, it's the first step toward repeating as state champions as well. Opening day is a time for teams, whether they reached the playoffs last season or didn't win a game, to start anew.

"No matter how many guys you have coming back, you still have to find a chemistry and an identity for your team," Clark said. "You never know how a new group of kids are going to work together until you're out there on the first day of practice."

The season officially kicks off on Sept. 7 at 3:30 p.m. when Stepinac travels to play Iona Prep in a CHSFL matchup. The rest of the area will hold openers that weekend.

"I just can't wait for the first game," Gorton senior Carlos Henriquez said. "The first game is what I've been talking about with my friends all summer. That's what we're all excited about most."

Until then, here are the 10 things every football fan should know as practice gets underway:

New faces: The coaching carousel barely moved in the offseason. Among the new faces are Don Polverari at Brewster, Mike Meade at Roosevelt and Chris Bisignano at Port Chester.

Polverari is the third coach at Brewster in the last four years. He spent the past two seasons as an assistant at Danbury (Conn.) and previously worked for seven years under Brian Walsh at Brewster.

Meade has 25 years of experience but hasn't coached in 10 years. He served as the athletic director at Saunders during that time.

Dom DeMatteo, the son of legendary coach Roosevelt and Somers coach Tony DeMatteo, will take over at Arlington.

Horace Greeley coach Bill Tribou has reaccepted the position after stepping down in the spring after 15 years.

An assistant coach of note will be at Edgemont, where former Wisconsin star Matt Bernstein has joined the staff.

2. Rewriting the playbook: Last season saw a dramatic change in offensive philosophy as nearly a dozen schools traded in their Wing-T playbooks for the explosive spread offense.

Among the teams following this year, to varying degrees, are perennial powers North Rockland and Iona Prep. North Rockland was traditionally an I-back team.

Both teams said the reason behind the switch was to fit their current personnel. They each have new quarterbacks and a revamped offensive line.

Several teams also intend to install no-huddle offensive sets.

3. Center stage: Every year there are players who have huge shoes to fill. None are bigger than the ones left by some of last year's top quarterbacks.

Harrison's Robbie Williams has the biggest of all, taking over for Matt Ciraco, last year's Westchester Journal News player of the year.

Ryan O'Neil takes over at Iona Prep for Sean Mara, who's now at Fordham University. And Fox Lane's Dorian Dorsey will start in place of Mike Mathews, who transferred to Florida state power St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale.

4. Overcoming adversity: No team will have to deal with the type of loss Mahopac recently suffered.

Justin Wagner, the Indians' star fullback/linebacker, died in a car accident on Aug. 14 on his way home from a weightlifting session. Wagner scored seven touchdowns last season and anchored the Indians' defense.

Today figures to be an emotional day at Mahopac, which returns a strong core of players from last season and is considered the frontrunners to win the League AA-North title.

5. Trainer's room: Late- and offseason injuries could have an impact this fall.

Ossining star tight end/defensive end Jajuan Perez suffered a torn ACL during the basketball season. His rehab through the spring went well and he's nearly 100 percent.

Joe Denti, a running back who transferred from Blind Brook to Harrison, showed no effects at summer workouts after having knee surgery. Denti gained 1,208 yards in eight games last year for the Trojans.

Gorton star linebacker Alex Soler is also coming back from knee surgery, and Edgemont's David Mandelbaum, who's moving to quarterback after racking up 639 receiving yards last season, suffered a broken wrist.

6. Inaugural season: There's a new team popping up on the schedule this season - Martin Luther King Jr.

The residential treatment center will participate in League C-A. The Tigers open their season against Valhalla on Sept 8 and will play all of their games on the road since they don't have a home field.

MLK follows in the footsteps of Lincoln Hall, an RTC school that played its first season last year.

The United struggled in their first varsity season after dominating the junior varsity level. But like Lincoln Hall, MLK has experienced considerable success in varsity basketball, which it will use as a foundation to build its football program.

7. Division I prospects: Who is the next player to make the jump from Section 1 to Division I?

The most likely candidate is Jajuan Perez of Ossining. The senior defensive end has drawn interest from several Big East and ACC schools. John Jay lineman John Zoppo has been offered a scholarship by Buffalo.

In the CHSFL, Stepinac running back Rashaad Slowley has garnered interest from several schools, including Maryland, Syracuse, and Rutgers.

Calvin McCoy of Fordham Prep, Michael Gayle of Mount Vernon and Markell Rice and Malcolm Campbell of New Rochelle could also attract Division I attention by season's end.

8. Moving up: Increased enrollments has forced several schools to move up in classification.

Eastchester and Panas are moving from Class B to A. Westlake and Dover move from C to B. Lincoln Hall has the enrollment of a B school, but opted to remain in C. The United will not be eligible for the postseason.

Next year could see a major renovation to the classifications as the state adjusts the enrollment numbers. If the NYSPHSAA approves the motion to raise the Class AA cutoff, Horace Greeley, Poughkeepsie and Yorktown could potentially drop down to Class A.

9. "Meaningless games": Class AA finally cleared up its playoff format by changing the conference from three leagues to four. The top two teams from each league earn playoff berths.

The only drawback to the system is that the crossover games are essentially meaningless.

Yes, games such as the Sept. 15 meeting between New Rochelle and John Jay, a rematch of last year's sectional final, has no bearing on the postseason.

10. Winning it all: As camp open, the five reigning Section 1 champs are all favorites to repeat in their respective classes.

Class C power Dobbs Ferry is searching for its seventh consecutive section title; Rye and Tuckahoe are aiming for their fifth straight; and Harrison is looking to win its third in a row.

The top contenders in each class are debatable. John Jay and North Rockland will be in the mix with New Rochelle in AA; Somers and Ossining will challenge Harrison in A; Sleepy Hollow poses the biggest threat to Rye in B, and Croton-Harmon is prepping for a rematch with Dobbs Ferry in Class C. Haldane and Tuckahoe are the only teams in D, so they've already booked a trip to Mahopac for the finals.

That's still two months away. There's plenty of football to be played before then.

Reach Kevin Devaney Jr. at kdevaney@lohud.com.

Ten things high school football fans should know

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