As the John Jay High School football team took the field for its first practice on Monday morning, they were quickly reminded that last season has little to do with this one. Sure, the Patriots captured their first Section 1 championship — the first Section 1 Class AA title in Dutchess County’s history — and reached the state tournament. But that certainly doesn’t assure success. Coach Tom O’Hare told them as much.
While standout quarterback Ryan Schumacher returns for his senior season, his receiving corps. and his brother Robbie, the heart of last year’s defense, are among the team’s losses to graduation, creating questions to be addressed before September:
Who will catch the ball?
Replacing four receivers who graduated seems a tall order for the Patriots. So it only makes sense that one of their biggest additions is 6-foot-10 Logan O’Donnell. The tight end, who was recently promoted from junior varsity, was already a big target… then he recently had a five-inch growth spurt.
The junior is a basketball center who has garnered college interest for that sport, but “They won’t let me tackle people in basketball,” he joked. O’Donnell is also a defensive end, but his focus now is refining his offensive skills.
Although blocking can be a challenge because of leverage — “You wouldn’t believe how often coaches tell me, ‘Get lower!’ O’Donnell said — he presents an obvious mismatch as a receiver. He enjoys running post and fade routes, which allow him to go up for jump balls or use his size to essentially box out shorter defenders. O’Hare believes he can be a tremendous threat in the red zone.
“He’s got quite the frame,” O’Hare said of O’Donnell, who is 210 pounds. “You don’t see a lot of kids with his size and tools on a football field, even at the college level.”
Sophomore wideout Jaivon Reynolds is another newcomer who impressed with his quickness, reach and leaping ability. With his athleticism he could have an immediate impact.
“I worked with the receivers over the summer, but we’re still getting our feet wet,” Schumacher said. “There will be some mistakes, but there’s a lot of talent in that group.”
Who will protect Schumacher?
The offensive line has been and should continue to be a strength for the Patriots. Among the key returners are guards Anthony Wray and Andrew Anthony. The interior line was impressive during run blocking drills and looked agile in pulling to seal the edge on counters and zone reads.
O’Hare was effusive in his praise of the line’s ability and said that in addition to their athleticism, it’s also one of the largest lines the program has had in recent memory.
“These are guys that can really move and they’re strong in the weight room,” Schumacher said. “As a quarterback, I have the utmost confidence behind this line.”
Who will lead the defense?
John Jay will have to do some reshuffling on the defensive line, and the graduation of superstar defensive end Rob Schumacher creates an obvious void. But, O’Hare said, “You don’t replace, you just reload. You teach the next guy what to do and let him be himself.”
CJ D’Andrea is among the contenders to be the next guy at that position.
“Losing Rob was difficult and he had a huge impact, but we have to keep going,” said Andrew Anthony, who also is an inside linebacker. “All those guys are doing a good job and working hard.”
A strength of the defense will be its linebackers, anchored by Anthony and Frank DiFusco inside and Travis Contreras and Danny Diedrich outside. The group has a good blend of speed and tenacity.
Anthony, who also wrestles at 220 pounds, said he trained in Crossfit during the offseason, adding seven pounds of muscle.
Who stands in the way of a repeat?
While Wappingers Central School District rival Roy C. Ketcham is not on the Patriots’ schedule, some of the toughest teams in Section 1 are, beginning with a home game Sept. 4 against New Rochelle, the one team to beat John Jay in 2014 before the state playoffs. The schedule also includes a championship-game rematch with Arlington in Wiccopee on Sept. 18, and a meeting with rematch of the sectional semifinals at Mamaroneck on Oct. 9.
“We know we have that bulls-eye on us,” O’Hare said. “Last year was a great experience, but that chapter is over. It helps to have that championship mentality, but we have to move on with this group and prove what we can do.”
Stephen Haynes: email@example.com, 845-437-4826, Twitter: @StephenHaynes4
John Jay football
Section 1 Class AA
First game: Sept. 4, 7 p.m., vs. New Rochelle
2014: 9-2 (won Section 1 Class AA title, lost to Shenendehowa in the state quarterfinals)