The Cortland High football team has a 43-man roster this season, which starts Friday with a 7 p.m. visit to Bishop Ludden, but the sheer numbers are only part of the story.
With only 12 players, all seniors, returning from last season, the junior varsity program was scrapped for this fall and the would-be JV players brought up to varsity.
On the plus side, after four seasons in a row of shifting back and forth, the Cortland High football team is actually in the same league, the Section 3 Class B West, this fall for a second consecutive season, the first time that’s happened since 2012 and 2013. That will help with preparing for somewhat familiar opponents.
In addition to Cortland and Bishop Ludden, the other B West squads are five 3-time defending champion Homer (also the defending Class B sectional champ), Syracuse Tech, Solvay, Westhill, Marcellus and Skaneateles, which moved up in classification after winning the sectional and state Class C championships last fall.
“It’s certainly a plus,” Purple Tigers head coach Pete Reif said of his team’s Class B repeat season. “But there are two new teams in the league, Bishop Ludden and Skaneateles, so there are still changes.”
The Purple Tigers take a three-game winning streak into Friday’s contest after going 1-5 in league play and 3-5 overall last fall.
Dustin Bush and Max Benz are Reif’s assistants. There will be no junior varsity team this season, so Vince Lizama, who was to be head JV coach, will also be a varsity assistant, along with Sean Mack and Joe Nicholas, who were slated to serve as JV assistants. Also on the staff are volunteer assistants Jake Prignon and Luke Parker. Tom Murphy is the coach of the Purple Tigers Modified team, assisted by David Clay, Joe Burlingame and Caleb Wright.
ALL-LEAGUE QUARTET RETURNS
Four of the the Purple Tigers’ 12 veterans were all-leaguers last fall. Running back/ linebacker Noah Barber (5-11, 206 pounds) was first-team all-league linebacker last season, when he had 45 tackles, including 28 solo. The four-year varsity player also rushed for 93 yards on 35 carries (2.7 yards per carry) and was CHS’s Special Teams Player of the Year.
A trio of all-league second-team picks from last year also returns. Running back/ linebacker Dylan Strauf (5-10, 195), who is currently injured but hopefully will return at some point this season, was honored for picking up 355 yards on 86 carries (4.1) with three touchdowns for 18 points. Joining him on the second team were two-way lineman BonScot Devlen (6-3, 193) and offensive lineman/linebacker Kirkland Case (5-7, 200). Devlen was cited for his defensive line play and Case for his performance on the offensive line.
The list of returnees also includes twoway lineman Jimmy Brown (6-0, 180), wide receiver/defensive back Ben Bushnell (5-11, 170), offensive lineman/linebacker
Matthew Fernandes (5-9, 180), wide receiver/defensive back Rory Hines (6-3,185; six catches for 158 yards and three TDs in 2017), two-way lineman Michael Millar 6-0, 220), wide receiver/linebacker John Reagan (5-8, 160), two-way lineman Caden Ross (6-1, 230) and offensive lineman/linebacker Joe Snavely (5-8, 165).
Barber and Kirkland Case are the permanent captains, with a third to be named each week based on practice performance.
KEY GRADUATION LOSSES
Two all-league first-teamers and one second- teamer were lost to graduation. Brandon Batsford was named to the premier squad as a linebacker, having made 48 tackles (32 solo), and also ran for a team-high 531 yards on 102 carries (5-2) and two TDs. First-team defensive end Jack Davie made a team-high 56 tackles (28/28) and caught six passes for 106 yards (17.7) and a TD as a tight end. Batsford was CHS’s Offensive Player of the Year and Davie the Defensive Player of the year.
George Hines was a second-team linebacker with 44 tackles (25-19) and, as a wide receiver, was Cortland’s top pass catcher with 17 grabs for 262 yards (15.1) and one TD; he also had a pair of two-point conversions for 10 total points. Also lost to graduation were defensive back/wide receiver Aaron Kelchner, quarterback/defensive back Patrick Hartnett and wide receiver/ defensive back Cameron Woodward.
Another key loss from 2017 is senior quarterback/defensive back Brandon Ludwig, who returned to the golf team for this season after completing 42-of-95 passes for five TDs for 669 yards (15.9) with five TDs and six interceptions.
The varsity newcomers include seniors Nick Bell (5-7, 152 running back/defensive back) and RickyG Young (5-9, 155 wide receiver/defensive back) and juniors Michael Carman (5-7, 140 wide receiver/defensive back), Gildon Case (5-8, 130 wide receiver/defensive back; Kirkland’s brother), Donovan Hartnett (5-11, 160 running back/defensive back; Patrick’s brother), Tayquan Pittman (5-8, 140 running back/defensive back) and Sterling Smith 5-10, 2-5 two-way lineman).
This season’s sophomores are Anthony Brown (5-11, 165 two-way lineman; Jimmy’s brother), Jacob Brown (5-7, 145 running back/defensive back; no relation to Anthony and Jimmy), Austin Burdick (5-9, 130 wide receiver/defensive back), Tahlik Dennis (5-10, 255 two-way lineman), Jaden Fitch (5-11, 157 wide receiver/defensive back), Tyler Gavitt (5-8, 168 offensive lineman/linebacker), Michael Guido (5-10, 148 wide receiver/defensive back), Marcus Hines (5-8, 140 running back/defensive back; George’s brother), Devin Legacy (6-0, 160 wide receiver/linebacker), Chris MacDuffee (5-6, 125 wide receiver/defensive back), Patrick Snavely (5-6, 161 offensive lineman/linebacker; Joe’s brother), Kaleb Thorhauer (5-8, 225 running back/linebacker) and Collin Williams (5-10, 165 quarterback/defensive back).
The varsity freshmen are Tristian Bell-Thomas (5-8, 142 quarterback/defensive back), Tyler Blake (5-11, 140 wide receiver/defensive back), Patrick Busutti (5-9, 125 wide receiver/defensive back), Luca Canzano (5-8, 155 two-way lineman), Robert Chambers Jr. (5-4, 150 two-way lineman), David Januszka (5-4, 110 wide receiver/defensive back), Kyle Knorr (5-7, 165 two-way lineman), Jacob Moran (5-1, 118 wide receiver/defensive back), F.J. Ott (5-2, 110 running back/linebacker), Brycen Palmer (5-9, 156 offensive lineman/linebacker) and Jack Waldbauer (5-11, 135 wide receiver/defensive back).
“The main goal for this year is to keep improving as the season goes on,” Reif said. “We will concentrate on becoming the best athletes we can and improving on our fundamentals. Through outworking our opponents we will achieve success. As long as we can stay healthy, we can certainly compete for a playoff position.
“Going into the season, the top teams are Skaneateles and Homer. Skaneateles is fresh off a Class C state championship season where their only loss was to Homer. Homer lost a close quarterfinal game in the state Class B tournament. Skaneateles returns the state Class C Player of the Year and Homer may not return as much but they are always in the mix.”
And what about Cortland’s opening-day opponent?
“Bishop Ludden is a bit of an unknown, being new to our league,” Reif said. “They lost in the Class D sectional finals last year and have since combined for football with Syracuse Academy of Science. They will be very tough and athletic.”
The Purple Tigers will operate an offset-I spread formation on offense and a 3-5 defensive set.
Reif said that the following would be his starting lineups for the opener.
OFFENSE: Left tackle, Jimmy Brown; left guard, Fernandes; center, Kirkland Case; right guard, Millar; right tackle, Devlen; quarterback, Williams; tailback, Barber; fullback, Thorhauer; X-receiver, Rory Hines; Yreceiver, Bushnell; Z-receiver, Fitch.
DEFENSE: Left end, Millar; nose guard, Ross; right end, Devlen, left outside (Dog) linebacker, Fernandes; left inside (Bat) linebacker, Thorhauer; Middle (Mike) linebacker, Kirkland Case; right Bat linebacker, Barber; right Dog linebacker, Reagan or Bell; left cornerback, Fitch; right cornerback, Bushnell; free safety, Rory Hines.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Kickoffs, Thorhauer; extra points/punts, Rory Hines; long snapper (extra points/punts), Kirkland Case; punt returns, Barber; kickoff returns (deep men), Fitch and Bell.
After the opener, Cortland hosts Syracuse Tech Central Sept. 8 at 1:30 p.m. That game was originally slated to be played in Syracuse but was switched, giving CHS five home games this season. Homer visits for the annual Home-Cort Jug game Sept. 14 at 6:30 p.m., which will be the new starting time for all remaining home games — pushed back half an hour from last year’s 7 p.m. kickoffs.