EAST SYRACUSE — It was finally time to talk about spread formations, great catches, hard hits, and, of course, what the season will look like in a couple of months.
Nearly 40 high school football teams from Section 3 gathered Tuesday for the first Central New York High School Football Media Day at East Syracuse-Minoa High School. With just five days until the first official practices begin, teams enthusiastically spoke of the new season and their expectations.
Among the Frontier League teams on hand were three of last year’s top squads. Class A champion Carthage and runner-up Indian River each brought their head coaches and three players each, as did Immaculate Heart Central, last year’s Class C runner-up to General Brown.
Coming off one of the best seasons in history, which included five of the 10 sectional finalists, expectations remain high for those squads and others such as Thousand Islands and Sandy Creek.
Coaches and players professed that although this is a different season, they all expect a positive carryover from last year’s highly successful campaigns.
“The excitement of winning a sectional title still really hasn’t worn off,” said Carthage head coach Sam Millich, whose team authored that incredible 21-20 comeback victory over Indian River in a classic Class A championship game in the Carrier Dome. “It’s almost like it happened yesterday. But now we realize that the bar has been set very high, and that we have a lot of work to live up to the expectations of not only our fans but our returning players.”
Senior lineman Aaron Reynolds said the Comets’ run to their second sectional crown “was like a dream come true. But I think having a lot of guys back who experienced that feeling will make us want to work even harder this season.”
Carthage senior linebacker Brenden Endrina agreed: “There are no words to describe the feeling after we won,” he said. “I’m still speechless when I think about what it meant to the school and the community. We don’t want them to forget that, but we also want to show them that it wasn’t just a one-year thing.”
Indian River head man Cory Marsell said that winning a sectional crown is an annual goal.
“At Indian River, we expect to be successful and compete for league and sectional titles,” he said.
Warrior lineman Tyler Wright said coming so close to winning it all “is still in our minds. We know we were just a few minutes away from winning, and that we didn’t get the job done. But the returning kids and the new guys are determined not to let that happen again.”
Paul Alteri, the veteran IHC head coach, said expectations are great and that his program is always under the microscope. “It’s my job to make sure the kids aren’t trying too hard to duplicate what we did last year,” said Alteri, who will rely on a talented sophomore class to fill in gaps left by graduation. “Sometimes, you just have to let the season play out and great things happen. Other years, things just don’t work out. That’s what’s great about this time of year — everybody thinks they can win a title.”
Alteri’s returning quarterback, senior Cole Carpenter, said the key to repeated success “is to be comfortable with what you’re doing. We’ve got enough veterans back that know what it takes. But as leaders we’ve also told the young guys that it’s not just showing up and playing games. It’s all the hard work off the field that makes a difference.”
Both Carthage and Indian River return deep, talent-laden clubs that should again contend for Class A National and overall Section 3 honors. Millich said that alone gives the Comets a chance to be good again.
“To me, last year validated our program,” Millich said. “But it doesn’t mean a thing as far as this year is concerned.”
Said Marsell: “Having a team like Carthage right in our back yard pushes us to be better. We know they are going to be good and that we have to beat them if we want to get to where we want to me, and vice versa.”
Such back-yard rivalries, like that between Carthage and Indian River and IHC and General Brown, “are great for north country football,” Millich said. “These games have meaning. It makes our season if we can beat Indian River. We lost to them last year (during the regular season), so we know what that’s like.”