CROSS RIVER – The season was already in jeopardy when a young team from John Jay without any real depth limped away from a Week 1 win at Byram Hills.
It seems like such a long time ago.
The Indians were in trouble last fall and were forced to put a large number of sophomores and juniors into play. An entire playbook needed to be simplified on the fly. Somehow, they came together and salvaged a 5-4 season.
Call it a head start.
Those sophomore and juniors are now experienced starters playing important roles for John Jay this season.
“We had been struggling with numbers for a couple of seasons,” Indians coach Jimmy Clark said. “Last year, we were a very young varsity team and on top of that we had some injury problems from the start. It’s not the way that we planned, but it gave a lot of kids some great experience moving forward. Football is a game of repetitions, and they got a lot of repetitions. We had some tough losses in there, but we got battle-tested.”
And they earned a playoff berth, losing to Eastchester 51-27 in a Class A quarterfinal.
“That was big for us,” senior defensive back Jackson Rieger said. “Even though we didn’t go far in the playoffs, we got a taste and that made us realize how much we all wanted to get back.”
Here they are.
John Jay survived a slow first quarter last week in the qualifying round against Harrison and went into Friday’s quarterfinal against Rye with a 5-2 record.
The underclassmen are contributing again.
“Even this year we have some kids who hadn’t played on the varsity stepping up in big roles,” Rieger said. “Bryce Ford is getting some reps at quarterback and Thomas Megna has been really good at linebacker. Just playing a varsity schedule has made them better.”
The experience has largely been positive.
Last fall, the Indians scraped together enough wins to keep the youngsters encouraged. This season, they have shown the kind of potential that makes established contenders nervous.
“There are two sides,” Clark added. “Playing with the kids we had left last year, we had to limit the playbook, but that experience gives you hope and expectations for the future.
“I think last season was tremendous for our program. We never strive to go 5-4, but I’m really proud of what our kids achieved, really proud of the way they dealt with adversity and came back. It left us with a good taste in our mouths.”