Sideline Talk: Big year changed game for Dutchess County football teams

Sideline Talk: Big year changed game for Dutchess County football teams

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Sideline Talk: Big year changed game for Dutchess County football teams

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Expectations are high in Wiccopee.

Ten months after reaching its first Section 1 Class AA title game, and falling one overtime touchdown short of its goal, the John Jay High School football team has been an excited bunch through the first week of training camp, according to coach Tom O’Hare.

Expectations are high in Freedom Plains, too.

Arlington’s gridiron gang, perennially a team on the rise, may once again be ready to continue its climb.

Come to think of it, those expectations may be dwarfed by those in Poughkeepsie.

I’m not even talking about the defending Section 1 Class A champion Poughkeepsie Pioneers — the big, beefy Warriors of Our Lady of Lourdes seem poised to prove last season’s Section 1 Class B finals appearance was only the preamble to a house-rocking encore.

Beacon was one win removed from a playoff spot in 2011. Roy C. Ketcham’s young offensive players were occasionally brilliant a year ago.

If expectations were any higher in Dutchess County, its wings might melt.

Yes, this is the same county that went without a Section 1 title for 14 years. If you’ve been following the section for some time, you might be inclined to think this is no ordinary August in the mid-Hudson Valley.

It’s true. But you should probably get used to it.

I don’t know if, or how, Lourdes will topple Class B juggernaut Croton-Harmon. I don’t know who will emerge from the Class AA Thunderdome, now that there are only four chairs at the playoff table, with the playoff procedure as murky as ever.

But who’s to tell Dutchess County’s teams not to dream?

Nobody. They proved that last season, arguably the most successful in county football history:

Poughkeepsie’s Section 1 title was the county’s first since Dover’s Class C state-championship team of 1997. For the first time, the county placed teams in the Classes AA, A and B section 1 title games. And, by the way, in Section 9, Spackenkill ventured to the Class B title game, a plateau Millbrook has surpassed in the past in Class C.

For as long as it took the county to catch up to the rest of the pigskin-catching world, there’s no stigma tempering its hopes anymore.

Prior to last fall’s championship weekend at Mahopac High School, Poughkeepsie coach Ken Barger said a title for his Pioneers, or the Patriots or Warriors for that matter, would “kick down the door” for Dutchess County in Section 1.

After a week of training camp, he attested that something has, indeed, changed.

“It’s a great thing that Dutchess County has knocked down that wall,” Barger said Wednesday, slightly shifting his metaphor. (We’ll forgive him since he’s a champion now.) “Lourdes, (John Jay) and definitely Poughkeepsie can all take that memory of Mahopac last year and really build off of it.”

In other words, Dutchess County can tell that inferiority complex to take a hike.

It’s earned the right to sit at the cool-kids table, right alongside Westchester and Rockland.

Granted, it’s natural for Poughkeepsie’s world to change now that it’s acquired a trophy and a target on its back. The world has altered for everyone else because Poughkeepsie’s title was a product of change, not the catalyst for it.

That’s why Beacon coach Brian Mahon has seen a change, too. Not so much in his players — he doesn’t think they felt any inferiority in the first place — but in the level and depth of competition in the county.

“They’re, if you want to say, catching up with the Westchester teams,” he said.

The equality has come with time. Most area coaches are quick to credit an increased emphasis on making football a year-round sport, something Westchester teams have done for years.

O’Hare said the change at John Jay began when former coach Brian Walsh took over the program in 2005, increasing the level of expectation and participation. (It’s no coincidence that Lourdes’ emergence coincided with Walsh’s arrival three seasons ago, either.)

Now, O’Hare continues to see change in his team this season, as cause and effect.

“It’s not the talent that changed. It’s the expectations. It’s the commitment level,” he said, noting increased involvement from the community and administration, as well. “I think the expectations have gone up and the kids have risen to the occasion.”

If expectations breed success, then we may be looking at another banner year in Dutchess County.

Expectations have never been higher. And the championship aspirations for teams like Lourdes and Arlington seem even more realistic now that Poughkeepsie has kicked down the door, or broke down the wall, or whichever metaphor you choose.

I don’t know what’s in store for 2012. I don’t know if the expectations are warranted. To use an overused line, that’s why they play the games.

But, with all that’s changed for Dutchess County’s football equality in the past year, there’s no reason to think that change won’t be here to stay.

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Sideline Talk: Big year changed game for Dutchess County football teams

Expectations are high in Wiccopee.

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