A year ago, the Poughkeepsie High School football team underwent a coaching change, with longtime Nyack coach John Castellano taking the reins.
This season, the Pioneers have another transition — namely, switching from Section 1 to Section 9 — a move that the team hopes will bring similar success as in years past.
“Football is football. There’s no difference,” said junior Malik Lewis, who will split time between wide receiver and safety. “You can’t underestimate anybody.”
Poughkeepsie earned its first Section 1 title in 2011, winning its first 10 games before falling in the state quarterfinals. A 3-6 team last season, the Pioneers are now part of Section 9’s Class A Division 1.
A non-division game against visiting Red Hook on Sept. 5 kicks off Poughkeepsie’s schedule, with games against division rivals Cornwall, Monticello and Wallkill to follow, all in October.
Despite those unfamiliar foes, the Pioneers said they’ll continue playing the style of football that brought them past glory, a game predicated on running that exploits their speed on offense.
“(The coaches) told us it’s a little different (in Section 9), but we’re still going to play our game,” said senior Jordan Finch, a wide receiver and cornerback. “We’re not going to switch just because we’re going to be playing different teams.
“We’re not going to see as many spread-out teams, they told us. We’re going to see more running games.”
New offensive coordinator Pat Keevins, fresh off almost a decade as Roy C. Ketcham’s head coach, said Poughkeepsie will look to space out the wing-T the Pioneers employed last season.
“We’re going to take some of what we did at Ketcham,” said Keevins, who won a league title with the Indians in 2013, “but certainly we’re changing to really fit the personnel here and take advantage of our personnel. It’s not going to be exactly what we did there, but it’s certainly going to have a lot of the same premises.”
Castellano will have plenty of Pioneers eager to learn the intricacies of his system.
After graduating 22 seniors from his 2013 team — roughly two-thirds of the squad — the coach said the 2014 Pioneers are a “young but talented” group, composed mostly of players who went 6-2 on Poughkeepsie’s JV last season.
“I’m very excited about this team,” Castellano said. “They’ve worked very, very hard at trying to get better each time they step on the field. We’re an ‘immature’ football team; we’re young. We’ll probably end up starting eight or nine juniors on offense and defense. We’re young, but they’re athletic; they’re very, very athletic.
“The quicker we grow, in terms of our maturity level, and the more experience we gain with each practice and each game, I think that bodes well for us. I like what we’re doing. I like the offense we’ve installed, the defense we’ve installed; I think it fits our kids. Again, once we get some maturity and some experience, I think we’re going to be OK.”
Meanwhile, veteran Pioneers like Jon Bell said they are eager to bring their younger teammates along and lay the foundation for Poughkeepsie’s Section 9 future.
“We show them, but they catch on pretty fast,” said Bell, a defensive lineman. “Once they get comfortable with what they’re doing and the schemes we run, we’ll be pretty good.”
Sean T. McMann: email@example.com; 845-437-4826; Twitter: @journalsean