RYE – After Andrew Livingston and Tim DeGraw posted video-game numbers much of the last four years, Rye football practice seemed very different when it opened Monday. The comfort level was gone, but losing the area’s best passing tandem to graduation has done nothing to temper the Garnets’ expectations.
“It’s kind of a shame that everyone is focusing on that,” said senior captain Patrick Hull, a two-way lineman. “We’re having a few new guys step up and I think we’re going to be just as good or better than we were last year.”
That would be quite the feat for Rye, which beat Yorktown to win last year’s Class A title, its first Section 1 championship since 2008. Livingston, Section 1’s all-time leading passer, and DeGraw, a two-time 1,000-yard receiver, were integral in last season’s success, but the team they left behind has shown no signs of regression.
Just consider that Rye won the Big Apple 7-on-7 at White Plains in June and followed by reaching the semifinals at the 7-on-7 at New Canaan, likely the area’s most competitive summer passing scrimmage.
New quarterback T.J. Lavelle, a junior, cautioned that those results were nothing more than a jumping off point for real football.
“It’s a great start, but no one cares about 7-on-7s,” Lavelle said. “It’s just a start, but we’re building off that now and working on the season.”
Senior Chase Pratt, a four-year starter and one of the area’s top two-way players, should be a force at running back and on the defensive line. Hull and senior Will Gladstone will anchor the line, and will bolster the middle of the defense along with returning senior linebacker Drake Turcotte.
Lavelle is in competition with fellow junior Mat Bruno, who started at outside linebacker last year. Bruno was one the team’s sophomore starters. He and fellow junior defensive backs Brett Egan and Tyler Reno give Rye plenty of youthful experience from last year’s championship team.
“We’re just trying to downplay the pressure and focus on our team,” Lavelle said. “Our team’s doing great so far. Our captains are leading the way and easing the transition. I feel confident in our team.”
Despite holes, Yorktown remains poised: No, with 26 players graduated, its not the same team. But the expectations in Yorktown remain high.
Think at least 9-1 high. That was the Cornhuskers’ record last season before 17 starters received their diplomas.
“We’ve been blessed with pretty talented kids year in and year out,” said coach Mike Rescigno, whose team lost to Rye in the Class A final. “We’ll have to see who the next great one is.”
One returning talent is Nick Santavicca. The senior rushed for 1,726 yards last year, among the most in Section 1.
Santavicca will run behind a reconstructed line, but he doesn’t appear concerned. He expects the team to effectively “run and gun and pound the ground.”
Yorktown will carry a roster of nearly 50 players with juniors Jose Boyer and Kyle Casey competing to replace Ryan Baker at quarterback. Senior lineman Joe Blume, senior safety Scott Weaver and juniors Justin Cavallo, Max Costello and Dom Cioffi are the returning starters joining Santavicca.
“I think we definitely have the depth and athleticism to return to the section championship,” Weaver said.
Nyack backfield ready to run: Starting with senior L.J. Norfleet, Nyack expects to have one of the section’s fastest backfields. The dual threat quarterback will be flanked by running backs Rafael Cruz and Malyk Michel, who coach Mike Ramponi said “could be the x-factor for us.” Michel moved to Nyack from North Carolina prior to the start of last season.
Ramponi hopes that speedy trio can help the Indians improve from playoff participant to postseason force.
“Instead of saying, ‘Hey, we played with the best,’ we now want to beat the best,” Ramponi said. “I think that’s our focus this year, and the guys know that. But until we beat somebody – one of the top teams – we haven’t proven a thing.”
Youth fueling New Rochelle: Since its surprising loss to Arlington in last year’s Class AA semifinals, New Rochelle has turned to several young players to retool, particularly in the backfield and on the offensive line.
“There will be enough underclassmen starting, some sophomores,” coach Lou DiRienzo said. “I don’t know if that’s necessarily by need. I think there are some young kids who are pretty skilled and talented, and I’m looking forward to seeing what they can do. If they’re ready to go, the best 11 are going to play.”
That will certainly include sophomore Jared Baron, who will replaced former star Jonathan Forrest in the backfield. Baron split time with an injured Forrest and ran for 100 yards in that playoff loss to Arlington. One of the backs flanking him will be senior Keelan Thomas, who transferred last season from Mount St. Michael.
The Huguenots also return starting quarterback Greg Powell. Despite his personal experience, knows the rest of the team won’t have much time to gel. New Rochelle opens with defending Class AA champ John Jay-East Fishkill on Sept. 4.
“There are going to be a lot of young guys playing, especially on the offensive line and the front seven on defense,” Powell said. “They’re going to get seasoned really quickly.”
Extra points: White Plains senior quarterback Tommy Avery threw for 1,000 yards as a junior, but he will return behind an offensive line with three starters back and a bevy of skill players. Seniors Donovan Brunson and Braxton Gill and junior Tyger Winston will be the Tigers’ main options. “I think our offense is one of the best in the section,” Brunson said. … Sophomore Braden Burke, who committed to play lacrosse at Duke, will return at wide receiver for John Jay.
Nancy Haggerty, Vincent Z. Mercogliano and Mike Zacchio contributed to this report.