Aquinas built an impressive record in Class A football, including five state championships.
How would the six-time defending sectional champions do against the larger Section V schools in Class AA?
We are closer to an answer after the first day of high school practices for fall sports teams around the state, including the 70 in Section V football.
“I think we’re all excited,” Aquinas football coach Chris Battaglia said. “It’s a new challenge.
“There’s a lot of good teams out there. When you get to those bigger schools, the players seem bigger. Let’s be honest, you have the big, big dogs.”
Any potential matchup against Section V Class AA champion Rush-Henrietta, 2011 runner-up Pittsford, Gates Chili or Fairport is another two months away, in the sectional tournament.
The only Section V team on the Aquinas regular season roster is rival McQuaid.
Section V reclassified or moved Aquinas into the state’s classification for the largest schools in late January. The string of sectional titles won by the Little Irish was the basis of the reclassification. “There were rumors before last season that it would be our last time (in Class A),” Aquinas senior lineman James Hedger said. “From an outside view, it makes sense.”
It will be interesting to see if the Little Irish, who were already playing in a higher classification based on student enrollment, can hold their own.
The list of players who graduated from last season’s Class A state semifinalist include Notre Dame defensive lineman Jarron Jones, University of Pittsburgh defensive back Jahmahl Pardner, two-time All-Greater Rochester linebacker Marc Pettrone and quarterback Cory Benedetto.
“Going hand in hand with that is that we lost a lot of leadership,” Battaglia said. The Little Irish should be anything but pushovers. Powerful running back Billy Lombardi, a Democrat and Chronicle co-All Greater Rochester Player of the Year last season, is among their returners.
Battaglia said there are plenty of capable running backs on the team who could help the Aquinas offense grind along, possibly with a 14-year-old freshman at quarterback.
The new Aquinas quarterback could very well be Jake Zembiec who is 6-feet-2 inches and 180 pounds. “Right now, he’s our No. 1 but we have other kids who want to play,” Battaglia said. “He has to perform. I don’t think it’s out of the ordinary anymore. Kids are maturing quicker.”
The East Irondequoit Eastridge Lancers want their time to become sectional champions again in Class A, to come this fall.
“We’re not going to be bad,” Eastridge coach Chad Green said. “We need to stay injury free.
“It’s a big cliche, but we have a lot of guys who have played for us since their freshmen years. We rely a lot on them.”
The Lancers scored 35 points a game and allowed 16.9 last season. Six offensive and eight defensive starters who helped Eastridge do those things are back. That includes Alex Officer, who will probably be the most highly recruited lineman in the area.
“We’ve been kind of disappointed the last three years,” Eastridge senior running back Jeremiah Ortiz said about the team’s first round exit from sectionals. “This year, I have faith in my team. “We have some good players. We all just have to believe, to have a goal to win the state championship.”
Teams around the state open their seasons on Aug. 31 or Sept. 1. In some cases, work to prepare for this fall began back in December.
Most football teams get together to lift weights, perform drills, play 7-on-7 football or practice at camps every week throughout the offseason.
Monday, according to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association sanctioning body rules, marked the first day that workouts count toward the number of practices individuals need for eligibility to play in games.
“I was real excited this morning,” Wilson senior lineman Qwaheem Marshall said. “It’s not too much different than the other practices, but these are the most important.”
There are some grumbles and questions about the restrictions placed on coaches and teams during the first week of official practice. Teams go to camps during the offseason where players wear pads and helmets for contact drills.
According to NYSPHSAA rules however, players are allowed to wear helmets, but no pads in the first two official days of football practice. No contact drills are allowed.
Teams can use items such as cones and other devices for conditioning and agility drills, plus soft hand shields for teaching purposes. “The state is trying to be safe with the kids by having teams slowly progress into it,” first-year Honeoye Falls-Lima coach John Russ, 28, said. “You don’t want a new player getting teed off on.”
Pads can be put on from the waist up on the third day, as some contact, but no tackles are allowed. Equipment such as shields and blocking sleds can be used.