To Spackenkill High School football coach Clinton DeSouza, it’s not star-power or gaudy statistics that define success. It’s how you react.
“Every team, I don’t care if you’re in the NFL or if you’re playing in Pop Warner, there’s going to be obstacles in your way,” DeSouza said. “We stress that every year and we say, ‘Look, those obstacles need to be smacked in the mouth. If we can come together as one and smack obstacles in the mouth, you never know what this team will do.’ “
Spackenkill, which had its first contact practice Wednesday, has been among the top contenders in Section 9 Class B in each of the last two seasons, going 7-3 in 2012 and 8-2 in 2011, falling in the sectional title game to Marlboro in each season.
Having success and coming up short has left the Spartans hungry, senior Ryan Mills said.
“We’re rebuilding the whole team and we have big spots to fill,” said Mills, who plays middle linebacker and center. “We’re going to get back and take that Section 9 championship.”
Mills is one player who will look to step into a prominent role, having played alongside star linebacker Josh Riley (111 tackles) last season.
“He played right next to Josh and had 60 tackles last year,” DeSouza said. “He probably would have led us in tackles if it weren’t for Josh. He’s going to be a leader on our defense.”
Other key returners for Spackenkill include right tackle Victor Twal, a third-year starter, as well as running back Trevor Dolan, whom DeSouza referred to as the team’s “most dynamic player.”
“He broke his leg in the Section 9 title game last year,” DeSouza said. “He’s a power runner and he’s going to do great things this year.”
Dolan replaces the graduated Wayne Bowden, who rushed for 701 yards last season.
“I think we’re going to continue the tradition that the seniors from last year created. I think we’re going to continue to be a successful football team,” Dolan said. “Spackenkill is back. We’re going to be good. I don’t see any holes. I think we’re going to fill them.”
DeSouza is turning to an untested commodity in Billy Winnis to replace graduated Evan Loughran at quarterback. An ace pitcher for the Spartans’ Section 9 championship baseball team in the spring, Winnis said DeSouza noticed him throwing the ball around in a practice during the playoffs and asked if he’d like to try quarterback.
Last season, Winnis was a backup tight end and played on special teams. DeSouza said the 5-foot-8, 160-pound Winnis was a very quick study.
“Only five days at Mid-Hudson Football camp and a few days here and he seems to have mastered the playbook,” DeSouza said. “Now it’s all about fine-tuning his technique in terms of reading coverages and making throws.”
Winnis said there were hurdles in becoming a quarterback.
“Baseball is not a high intense sport and it’s a lot of standing around, so all the pre-practice conditioning was a little rough in the beginning,” said Winnis, a co-captain along with Twal, Mills and Dolan. “In the offseason, I trained really hard because I want to be one of the better people on the team, especially if I was going to be a captain.”
Facing teams like Marlboro and New Paltz in Section 9 Class B poses a consistent challenge for the Spartans.
“Hopefully, we can make some noise,” DeSouza said. “You never know where it might fall. Every given Saturday and Friday night, you have a chance to win.”