SOUTHPORT – Coaching experience is something Elmira Notre Dame has in bunches. That’s not the case when it comes to the Crusaders’ offensive skill positions.
How quickly and how well the youngsters on offense pick up their game could go a long way in determining the fortunes of the Crusaders, who went 3-5 last season and lost to Moravia in the Section 4 Class D quarterfinals.
“Very young and inexperienced in the skill sets and the learning curve has to drastically improve for us to be successful,” head coach Mike D’Aloisio said. “They are a group I have been calling Yellow Mustard, without the spice. We need to kick it up a few notches and have better focus on what is happening, and what we want to accomplish as a unit.”
D’Aloisio returns for his 34th season as Notre Dame’s head coach. His teams have won 217 games during his tenure, with current assistant coaches Ron Norman, John Mirando, John Maio and John Morrison around for a lot of those victories.
Among those expected to carry the load in the backfield and at receiver are juniors Tim Davis, Derrick Stark and Tyler Jones, along with sophomore Gary Raupers. The good news is there’s experience up front to lead the way, with the offensive line anchored by seniors Ty Kunzman, Noah Kravitz and tight end Toby Wirth, and juniors Matt Labadie and Pat Brown. Chris Whitson and Tarryl Garner, two key players last season, transferred to different schools.
“Probably our biggest asset is experience at the offensive line positions,” D’Aloisio said.
The defense has similar questions, with a lot of new faces being counted on in the Crusaders’ 4-4 set. Among the set positions are Kunzman at defensive end, Raupers and Davis at defensive back, and the linebacker duo of Labadie and Stark. Tony Liriano, a senior, is expected to contribute at linebacker and offensive tackle.
“I can see us possibly struggling early in the season a bit here because of the lack of returners in key positions,” D’Aloisio said. “We have to work as a complete unit, getting multiple people to the ball whenever possible. We have to recognize better and see what is developing before it is actually upon us.”
The Crusaders open the season at home Friday against Thomas A. Edison, which is coached by Notre Dame alum Mike Bennett. Week 2 brings a visit to Odessa for the first home game for the newly combined Watkins Glen/Odessa-Montour Seneca Indians. Notre Dame is in Division VIII of the Section 4 Football Conference along with Groton, Moravia, Newfield and Spencer-Van Etten.
“As our line goes on both sides of the ball, that is what will determine our success,” D’Aloisio said last week. “I am confident repetition and hard work will make us better, but I feel we should be farther along at this point of our preseason. Injuries are always a concern for most Class D schools, but even first-year players will have to contribute somewhere if we want to guard against back-to-back losing seasons.”
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Sept. 4: vs. Edison, 7 p.m.
Sept. 12: at Watkins Glen/Odessa-Montour, at Odessa, 7
Sept. 18: at Spencer-Van Etten, 7
Sept. 26: at Moravia, 1
Oct. 2: vs. Candor, 7
Oct. 9: vs. Groton, 7
Oct. 17: at Newfield, 1