The second time around was much easier for Pete Reif Monday as the 2016 Cortland High varsity and JV football teams began practicing for the upcoming season.
A coach in the Purple Tigers grid program since 2001, Reif succeeded Dave Darrow as head varsity coach last season after 10 years as a varsity assistant. He also played football during his days as a student at CHS. While it all meant a lot of familiarity with how things go on opening day, there was still a lot of adjusting to do.
This time around, not so much.
“I was the only returning coach last season and we had to fill all the positions,” Reif said. “Everyone on the staff is back except for Mike Discenza, who’s now an assistant coach at SUNY Cortland. Another thing that’s nice is that we already have the offensive and defensive schemes installed after doing that last year, when it was brand new for the players and coaches. The kids have the fundamentals and we don’t have to start from scratch.
“I thing practice today was the quickest five hours of my life. We had some kids show up unexpectedly who wanted to play. We had 24 varsity players and expect two more who couldn’t make it today, and had 27 JV kids.”
Last year, Reif went with one practice block, from 2 to 7 p.m., after the 2014 squad had gone from 3 to 8 p.m. and teams before that had gone with split afternoon and evening sessions. He stuck with last year’s schedule this time around, though, with things actually getting underway at 1:30 p.m. as players’ physical cards were collected and general rules and expectations were addressed by the coaching staff. That was followed by chalk talk and weight room time, the varsity and JV players alternating between the two.
With equipment having already been handed out on Wednesday, the Moiseichik Field sessions got underway around 2:40 p.m. with the skill players while the offensive linemen and tight ends hit the weights. The entire team was on the field by 3:10 p.m. and started a half-hour of special teams work at 3:25 p.m. Then came offensive work by positions before the team came together to work until just before 5 p.m., when everyone went back inside to rehydrate, refuel and have defensive classroom time for around an hour before heading back out for defensive drills that closed out the first day. Reif also noted that ample water was available throughout the outdoor work, as needed.
The players were ready to go on the opening day of practice after a summer’s worth of work that itself was a continuation of earlier groundwork, according the Reif. He noted that, like last year, there were four practices at the end of the school year, the third week in June, before a 7-on-7 camp at Chenango Forks.
There was, however, a change in the vacation routine.
“Last year we had the weight room open the entire summer on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays and players could choose between 8 to 9:30 a.m. and 4 to 5:30 p.m. sessions,” Reif said. “This year we only went in the morning, from 8 to 9:30 a.m. those same days. It was open to players in seventh through 12th grades, which gave the varsity and JV staff a chance to get to know the seventh- and eighth-graders, who we won’t see much, if at all, once the season starts.
“We also did on-field skills work every Wednesday night and for the first time, on four Thursdays, worked on skills with players in the Small Fry program.”
This week’s practices are slated to go in the same 2 to 7 p.m. time slot at Moiseichik Field until Saturday, when the hours will be 9 a.m. to noon, followed by a meeting with parents of players on both teams. State rules say that players are to wear T-shirts, shorts and helmets for the first two days of practice. Upper pads can first be worn on Wednesday, with no contact through Friday.
“Saturday is the first day the kids can hit each other, and they’re excited about that,” Reif said. “We hope to have a lot of parents show up.”
THE PURPLE TIGERS will go in full pads from 2 to 7 p.m. every day next week as well, leading up to their home scrimmage against Johnson City on Aug. 27 starting at 11 a.m.
After a year in Class B, the Purple Tigers are back in the Class A American Division this fall. They will begin their 2016 slate by hosting rival Homer in a non-leaguer on Sept. 2.
CHS hosts defending sectional Class A champion Whitesboro Sept. 9 in another 7 p.m. start and opens league play Sept. 16 at defending league champion East Syracuse-Minoa, last year’s sectional Class A runner-up, at 6:30 p.m.
CHS returns home the next two weeks for 7 p.m. contests, against Oswego Sept. 23 in the Homecoming game and Jamesville-DeWitt on Sept. 30. A pair of road games close out the regular season, at Fulton Oct. 7 at 6:30 p.m. and against Fowler at Corcoran Oct. 14 at 6 p.m. The next weekend brings either a sectional or crossover game.
In addition to his head coaching duties, Reif will also be the offensive coordinator and handle the offensive line. His assistants will be Jeff Lacey (in charge of wide receivers/special teams, assistant with the secondary) and former Purple Tiger standout Alex Stacy (quarterbacks/running backs/secondary). The JV coaches are former Homer players Dustin Bush (head coach) and Max Benz (assistant), who Reif noted will also be the co-defensive coordinators. Bush is also the varsity linebacker coach. Pat McNerney is the new Modified head coach, , replacing the retired Joe DiSanto, assisted by Joe Nicholas and Brandon Galutz return as assistant Modified coaches.
THE CHS MODIFIED team will meet in the downstairs gym and then issue equipment to players on Aug. 29 before its first practice that day, from 3 to 5 p.m.
Trojans seek repeat of B West title
It was an interesting contrast at George Butts Field Monday morning. As Trojans’ first-year head coach Morgan Osborne was wrapping up conditioning drills for the girls’ soccer team, veteran head coach Gary Podsiedlik was going over final preparations for the first Trojan football practice of the 2016 season.
Podsiedlik is beginning his 27th year as head coach and 34th overall as a football coach at Homer with a double session on George W. Butts Field in the morning and a 2-4:30 p.m. session at Calale Field in the afternoon. The Trojans are coming off a third straight Section 3 B West Division championship with a 6-1 record and a 7-2 overall mark after falling in the Section 3 semifinals.
“We had excellent effort for the first day of practice,” Podsiedlik said later. “We had a very good day of work. It was a very good day one.”
There are 12 seniors, 17 juniors, 18 sophomores and 12 freshmen looking for varsity and junior varsity roster spots which started with some conditioning and defensive fundamentals in the morning with offensive fundamentals, team work and conditioning in the afternoon.
“Between our team camp and running very similar programs from modified level right up to varsity, the guys already know what to expect,” Podsiedlik said. “The guys are excited to be here. I think the installation of our offense, defense and special teams will really to smooth. It will really be a case of putting the right players in the right spots.
“We really don’t have any superstars this season,” he added. “We do have a team of good players and it should be a lot of fun.”
The JV and varsity players will run double sessions together from 9 a.m. until 12 noon and 2-4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and a daily rotation of the fundamentals. Tuesday had offensive fundamentals in the morning and defensive fundamentals in the afternoon with Wednesday seeing the same schedule as Monday. The first two days with just helmets, mouthpiece and knee pads. Wednesday players will add shoulder pads and shields, but still no body-to-body tackling allowed and that will continue from that point. Friday will be a single session from 9-12 for the varsity with their Gold Card fundraising blitz from 4-9 p.m.
Saturday is the day everyone is looking forward to. “Hit day” (Saturday) will feature just a morning session from 9 a.m. until noon with full pads for the first time.
Week two of practice will get underway August 22 with a varsity double session as the varsity and JVs begin to practice separately. The varsity will have the same 9-12 and 2-4:30 session while the JVs go to afternoons only from 4-6:30 p.m. August 23 will have a light morning session before the annual Blue-White scrimmage, better known as the Watermelon Bowl. The JVs have a short practice from 4-5 before their scrimmage from 5-6 p.m. with the varsity on the field from 6-7 p.m. Afterwards, the watermelon is served to the winners.
The rest of week two will be for the varsity double sessions until a single morning session August 26 while the JVs stick to the one afternoon practice.
The second highlight of week two is August 27 with the multi-team scrimmage at Ithaca High School. This is the second year the Trojans have headed to Ithaca for the four-team scrimmage from 9 a.m. until noon.
The final week of the preseason will be double sessions Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday (Aug. 29-31) with the first true pre-game practice that Thursday afternoon (Sept. 1).
Homer has holes to fill, but some good experienced players returning. Heading those returnees are senior quarterback Jacob Rivers who was thrust into a starting role with the early-season injury to Garrett Lewis. The backfield has a mix of returnees in senior Matt Guerrera (RB/WR who can play several positions as can senior Cody Johnson. Other top returnees include junior John Horner III, senior Kevin Bush and senior Jack Walter in the backfield.
The line will be anchored by senior Luke Sears, a three-year player and three-year starter. Junior lineman Vincent Basile is back for his second year. There will be much more information on all the players on both sides of the ball closer to the start of the season.
Three newcomers Podseidlik was high on are juniors Tucker O’Donnell (QB-DB), Dominick Natale (HB/DB/LB) and Dante Yacavone (TE/LB). There are also two sophomores that are expected to be on the varsity roster, Chase Kiner and Damien Hoyt.
It’s a veteran staff that returns to Homer with Tom Cottrell, Jim Whidden, Mike DeMattei and David Podsiedlik on the varsity side while George Schneider and Geoff Sorenson work with the JVs.
“Our expectations will not change,” Podsiedlik said. “We expect to fight and claw every week to win games and a league championship. Because there are no superstars I really believe the sky’s the limit for these guys. We will work hard to set a good tone for every practice. We have a good group of seniors and some very talented juniors for the community to watch this season.
“There are new head coaches at Solvay, Chittenango and Westhill,” he continued. “We will not overlook any opponent. We will show them the respect they deserve and play hard every week.”
The Trojans are just concentrating on Homer through next Tuesday’s Watermelon Bowl. Next will be the scrimmage and then the season opener Sept. 2 at Cortland High in the only non-league contest on the 2016 schedule. The Trojans’ home opener is Sept. 9 when Marcellus comes to George Butts Field.