For the final time today, this is Vin Mercogliano with my practice report from White Plains:
In the span of one year, the entire perception of the White Plains football program has changed.
At this time in 2013, the Tigers were coming off of a dreadful 1-8 season, and there weren’t many – if any – who were looking at them as a serious title contenders in Class AA. Yet, in one of the most memorable turnaround stories in recent years, that’s exactly what they were. White Plains captured its first section championship since 1979, and suddenly, the bar has been raised.
“I hope so, but at the same token, I also want them to be their own people,” coach Skip Stevens said on Monday. “That’s in the past now. We have to work towards the future, but I think they left a nice foundation for us last year. And I think the way that they’re working, they understand what needs to be done to elevate your game.”
This will be a much different looking group of Tigers, with key players at several positions having been lost to graduation. That includes QB Cam Crabbe, TE/DE Lukas Repetti and four of five starters on the offensive line, so White Plains will have to prove itself once again. But they’re OK with that.
“I’m looking to be a leader on this team and I’m looking to bring us to another section championship,” senior LB Will Ahearn said. “We have the target on our back after winning the section last year and we just need to work as a team – work as a family – and get things done.”
• When I asked Stevens about his top returning players, the first guy that he mentioned was Ahearn (pictured to the right). He led the team in tackles last season and is full of energy. He’ll also see some time at tight end this year. “We still have players from our last team and we know what needs to be done,” Ahearn said. “These kids are like family to me, so I’m going to put them on my back.”
• Stevens was clear that finding four new starters on the line is his top priority. “The biggest concern I think really for us is the offensive line,” he said. “I lost basically four out of five on the offensive line. Skill guys, yes, we lost a lot, but we had a lot of guys backing them up last year, too, so they got the reps in practice. As far as the offensive line is concerned, I lost four out of five and hopefully these younger guys coming up from JV will do a nice job.”
• The only returning starter on the offensive line is senior David Ventura, who Stevens told me has been working at virtually every position on the line this offseason. He’ll be relied on as the only guy up front with significant varsity experience. “Since we lost most of our key linemen from last season, I think I have to step up and help the upcoming young people,” Ventura said. “To be honest, it really doesn’t matter which position I play. It depends on what coach sees me being better as. I really don’t mind.”
• When I asked Ventura about other guys who he thinks will step up in the trenches, he immediately spit out Jimmy Hall’s name. “He played with us last year, but he was mostly a key on defense,” he said. “(This year), I see him also on offense.”
• Replacing Crabbe at QB will be junior Tommy Avery, and the entire team seems to be confident in his ability. His family has a history of success at the position, and he’s been working closely with Crabbe, who was at practice on Monday to help out. “We brought Tommy up as a sophomore last year to back up Cameron, and he’s really, really worked hard in the offseason,” Stevens said. “He’s only going to be a junior, but with Cam’s tutelage last year, I think it will go a long way for him this year. He’s got two brothers who played quarterback here – Jeff was a starter for me two years ago and Kevin was the starter when I was the offensive coordinator here.”
• Another name to watch is DE Louis Blackwell, who is a transfer from Iona Prep. He’s still getting to know the guys – Ahearn wasn’t even sure of his last name – but I was told that he’s made an impression already.
File photos from The Journal News