Notre Dame players at their opening practice Monday.
With the start of practice Monday for fall high school sports in New York, players at Elmira Notre Dame enjoyed their renovated stadium, while a few miles away the Elmira Express talked about their intentions to continue what was started last season.
Notre Dame has won 214 games during Mike D’Aloisio’s career as head coach. D’Aloisio said the renovations at Brewer Memorial Stadium — including artificial turf instead of grass, a new track, new bleachers and a new press box — represent another win for the program.
“It was a lot of work, but it’s simply beautiful,” said D’Aloisio, entering his 33rd season as Crusaders’ coach. “One of the nicest facilities I’ve seen around and certainly in Section 4.”
Workers put some finishing touches around the field Monday. Also to come are new lights that will allow the team to continue to play home games at night.
The Express returned to a field where it dominated so many opponents last season. Elmira finished with a 10-1 record, won the Section 4 Class AA title and advanced to the state semifinals.
“The difference is now this year we have a target on our back,” Elmira senior linebacker/offensive lineman Dom Clark said. “We’ve just got to live up to our expectations, keep our poise, practice hard, and we should be all right.”
At Horseheads, the Blue Raiders plan to go with a smaller number of varsity players this season to allow players to mature at the junior varsity level.
In Elmira Heights, Thomas A. Edison began its second season under head coach Mike Bennett.
Monday also marked the official debut of George Bacalles as head coach of the Corning Hawks, though Bacalles has been working with the team since spring in offseason drills.
Waverly will return to its home stadium this season after playing home games elsewhere last year while the field underwent construction. The payoff is a stadium with artificial turf and a new scoreboard, among other improvements.
Big turnout for Express
Third-year Elmira head coach Jimmy McCauley said 85 players turned out for the start of practice between the junior varsity and varsity teams. He has liked what he has seen from the players as they try to build off last year’s success.
“I had a great senior class last year, and I also had a great junior class,” he said. “Those juniors are carrying over that hard work ethic. They know what it takes and they knew what to do over the summer. I had quite a few kids in the weight room, quite a few kids in the walkthrough sessions.”
McCauley said the team lost 11 or 12 starters to graduation, with all-state senior running back Jerry McPeak one of the notable returning players. McCauley said his team won’t fly under the radar this season, though the concern is solely on his players.
“I try not to worry about what others think. We have a goal in mind for us,” he said. “This is something we want to be doing every single year. We want to compete for the sectional title, we want to get in the playoffs. … These kids are all 100 percent behind us. They believe in the same goals, they believe in what we do.”
Elmira opens the season at Susquehanna Valley at 1:30 p.m. Sept. 6. The players hope to again be playing deep into November.
“We want to get back to states and this time try to win it,” Clark said.
Crusaders much younger
Last season for Notre Dame started with the team forced to forfeit against Tioga because of a lack of players. The Crusaders didn’t lose again until the Section 4 Class D semifinals, winning the Division VII title along the way.
Notre Dame opened practice with 23 players Monday after they had only 14 eligible players, two below the minimum, for Week 1 last season.
“Some guys showed up today who I wasn’t sure were going to re-register,” D’Aloisio said. “They did what they had to do in the offseason and went to school and took some classes and got their grades up. So I’m pleasantly pleased to see them out here, and they’re guys who can really help us continue to try to be successful.”
Notre Dame lost nine seniors from last season, including the talented offensive trio of Tom Agan, Derek Marshall and Hunter Thomas.
“We’re very young and inexperienced,” D’Aloisio said. ‘We’re going to try to simplify things and progress as we go, but I think we have some weapons teams should still be concerned about.”
One weapon is senior Cam Reid, who will likely play fullback, wingback and defensive back. Reid said he thinks the Crusaders have more team speed this season, and D’Aloisio said the faster playing surface could give his team an edge because of that speed.
Notre Dame is scheduled for its first official game at 7 p.m. Sept. 5 against Oxford.
“I was very excited to see the field. It looks very nice,” Reid said. “I’m excited to play on it.”
Horseheads goes smaller
Blue Raiders head coach Damian Saks plans to carry a varsity roster of less than 30 players, comprised mostly of seniors and juniors. He said a sophomore or two could make the big team but, “We want to let them mature.”
So rather than expecting a 155-pound sophomore to block a 200-pound senior, Saks will carry a JV roster of about 50.
The varsity can rely on an experienced backfield of quarterback Ben Clark, running backs Deshaun Sutton and Evan Stiles, and fullback James Eastman, all of whom received considerable playing time a year ago.
Other than returning center Noah Travis, though, the offensive line will have new people. So will the receiving corps. Despite the personnel turnover, Saks said he’s planning a faster pace on offense.
Dan Stroman may be the Blue Raider most likely to receive all-star consideration. He made big plays from his linebacker spot in 2013 and will also take snaps at running back on offense. Saks said Stroman is taking on a leadership role.
“He’s already getting on everyone,” the coach said.
Like Stroman, Travis (defensive line), Sutton (safety) and Clark (cornerback) will be on the field most of the game. With that in mind, Saks said conditioning will be crucial for Horseheads.
“We will have less than 30 on varsity, so guys will have to play both ways,” he said.
Horseheads opens its season with a home matchup against Oneonta at 1 p.m. Sept. 6.
Edison ‘having fun’
The Spartans drew 34 varsity candidates Monday. They will not field a JV squad but will offer modified football for seventh- through ninth-graders.
“We’re having fun,” Edison coach Mike Bennett said as he and his staff continue to revive a program that was on life support two years ago.
Josh Cosgrove moved from running back to quarterback last season and will start behind an experienced line with 275-pound Kieran Goodwin at center, Corey Garrison at guard, and Jared Coats and Chris Boughton at tackle. The receivers are all new to varsity.
On defense, Goodwin, Boughton and Coats will man the interior line with newcomers at end. Other than Cosgrove at safety, the secondary and linebackers will have new faces, too.
Bennett said he isn’t concerned, since the Edison modified team went 6-1 a year ago.
“We have quality replacements. They just have to get up to the speed and size of the varsity game,” he said. “Speed will be our strong suit, especially on defense.”
Edison opens up with a home game against Hancock-Deposit at 1 p.m. Sept. 6.
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