This year shouldn’t be considered a sequel for the Elmira Express football program.
It’s more of a reboot, with a different director and some new characters stepping into key roles.
“I’ve been telling everybody it’s a brand new start,” said first-year varsity head coach Jimmy McCauley. “Coaches wherever it’s been, they do their thing and I’m going to do my thing. Nothing against anybody, just a brand new start for the kids. A brand new outlook on things. This whole coaching staff, that’s what we’re about is a brand new start.”
That start became official Monday morning, as roughly 80 junior varsity and varsity football players from Southside and Elmira Free Academy came together for their first practice at EFA’s Marty Harrigan Field.
Monday was the opening day of practice for all high school sports in New York and Pennsylvania.
It’s not as if last year’s inaugural season of Elmira Express football was a disaster. The players from Southside and EFA combined for three victories and were competitive in two late losses to Corning, but a coaching change during the season left a bad first impression with the public.
McCauley, 27, has been working with players since he became coach in the spring. The players continued to impress him Monday.
“The first day was awesome,” he said.
“The kids were very energetic, very eager to get back into doing some football stuff. It was a great first day of practice.”
This is the second straight season of significant change for senior guard/linebacker Ryan Friebis, who played for Elmira Free Academy as a sophomore and is playing for his third head coach in two seasons with the Express.
He shared his coach’s enthusiasm on Monday following an afternoon practice in the 85-degree heat.
Friebis said he’s been working out all summer and had been participating in once-a-week walk-throughs and other training sessions with teammates.
“It’s definitely a lot more energy around everyone,” Friebis said. “We’re all up tempo. We’re definitely ready to go.
“It’s great. They’re pushing us to the limit.”
Said McCauley: “We’re very athletic. Very high energy. It was real nice to see the kids getting after it a little bit. A couple of kids were getting after it, ‘Who’s faster than who?’ That intrasquad competitiveness was nice to see.”
Even with the coaching change, there is continuity for the program beyond the returning players. McCauley was the team’s defensive backs coach last season and previously coached the junior varsity team at Southside for four seasons.
Mike Johnston Jr., longtime head coach at Corning West before that team merged with Corning East in 2010, is back for his second season as the team’s offensive coordinator.
He also ran the offense at EFA two years ago. The other varsity and JV coaches are also contributing experienced leadership.
“It’s a whole staff deal,” McCauley said. “I have a varsity and JV staff. We game plan together, we practice plan together. I don’t want to seem like I’m doing it because I rely on all those coaches to do their jobs. When we put it all together it’s going to be a nice, polished product.”
Elmira will continue two-a-day practices until its scrimmage Aug. 25 at Owego Free Academy. The Express opens the regular season at home at 4 p.m. Aug. 31 against Horseheads.
“I want to take it one game at a time,” Friebis said. “Let’s just focus on the first game and win that. Then we’ll focus on whatever is after that.”
As for the old rivalry, that’s pretty much history.
“The way I look at it, there’s no more Southside-EFA,” McCauley said.
“Now instead of fighting each other, we get to come together and go against the Ithacas, the Binghamtons and the Cornings. That’s the way I look at it. I have all the pride in the world that I’m a part of what we’re doing.”