Football is back! Local teams return for opening practices
BENNINGTON — Football practice started on Monday for both Vermont and New York schools and the opening of camp is like having Christmas in August.
Hoosick Falls coach Ron Jones, Cambridge coach Doug Luke, Burr and Burton coach Jason Thomas and Mount Anthony coach Chad Gordon all said they were excited and looked forward to Monday to get the season started.
"I'm like a kid on Christmas, I was awake until midnight and got up at 5:30 [this morning]," said Gordon, going into his second season leading the Patriots. "I didn't get much sleep. Even getting everyone together on Sunday for our equipment handout, I was ready to get them going."
Jones said he felt the same way, talking about Denny Douds, a coach he worked with at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania.
"Denny's been at [ESU] for 50 years and he always said the first day of football is better than Christmas, it was his favorite day of the year," said Jones, who is entering his 23rd season with Hoosick Falls. "I have a hard time not feeling that way because we've worked all year to be here. We talked to the kids about it, you've work all offseason to get bigger and stronger and better, so come out with some enthusiasm and have fun. I'm happy we're back."
Luke, going into his 20th season as the head coach at Cambridge, had been dealing with some health issues this summer, but the thought of football helped him have a good mindset.
"Getting up and coming down here was a bit of excitement," Luke said. "I've been looking forward to this for several weeks. We had a camp a couple of weeks ago and got an idea of who's going to be here and who can do what. It got me ready and I'm anxious to get going."
For Thomas, who led BBA to a state semifinal appearance last year, getting his team back on the field is great, especially with last season's disappointing end.
"It feels great. We ended last year with a little bit of bitter taste in our mouths," Thomas said. "It's good to get back in here and work toward finishing the season the way we want to finish it."
At Mount Anthony, the numbers are good for a team that went 3-6 in its first year in Division II.
"We have about 40 guys between JV and varsity, and that's right where we need to be as a D-II program," Gordon said. "We played a lot of competitive football last year, and we're looking to do that again. We hadn't played the D-II teams before, now we have an idea who they are."
Gordon said there's open competition at every position.
"I don't care if it's a freshman or a senior, I want to see who has the best hustle and attitude," Gordon said. "Those are the guys that get rewarded."
As camp starts, the main competition is at quarterback as the Patriots look to replace Will Fischer, who graduated.
"There's three guys: Carson Morgan, Caleb Hay and Austin Grogan, who is a freshman. All three will get an equal chance for the spot," Gordon said.
MAU will play at Fair Haven to open the season on August 31.
At Hoosick Falls, the Panthers look to continue growing after a 5-4 season and a trip to the sectional semifinals in 2017.
"Offensively and defensively, we have returners from every level, from the lines to the running backs and wide receivers, along with the linebackers and defensive backs," Jones said.
This summer, as part of the team's workouts, alumni came back to work with the kids a few times.
"It's something that happened when I was playing here, it means something for the college guys to give back," Jones said.
Hoosick Falls opens the season against Whitehall, then host Canajoharie and Cambridge in back-to-back weeks.
"We're low on numbers, so we want guys to stay healthy as the younger guys develop," Jones said. "It's important that everyone is ready to go."
At Cambridge, the two-time defending Class D champions move up to Class C as they merge with Salem for the second time in three years. But Luke said he's ready for the challenge.
"Going up in class is a good thing," Luke said. "Not to be obnoxious or cocky, but we would blowout teams and it took the fun out of it after a while. It's better for us to be in Class C."
Salem has about 10 kids with the Indians this fall, the merger process made easier by the youth programs merging last year. On Day 1, Luke was still getting used to the new kids.
"Some went to our 7-on-7 [camps], but I'm still learning the [Salem] kids," Luke said. "I'm happy to have the Salem kids and we're one big team now, more than 40 players. As bad as Salem was numbers-wise, we were going down too, so it helps both schools in the long run."
The Indians lost 11 starters overall, but Luke said the younger guys do have some experience.
"That's one benefit of a blowout, the younger kids play a lot," Luke said. "We have to figure things out. We know some of the kids from last year, but we still have to figure out [where the Salem kids will fill in]."
The Indians will be tested immediately, as they start the season against Hoosic Valley, then a matchup with Holy Trinity, a Class C state semifinalist in 2017 before traveling to Hoosick Falls for their first matchup with the Panthers since 2009.
"I like playing Hoosick Falls and Greenwich, they're our neighbors and we play them in all the other sports," Luke said. "It's a lot of good tests early and it doesn't slow down."
At Burr and Burton, hopes are high to build upon last year's 8-2 mark and to make it back to the Division II state title game, where they had been the previous two seasons.
While BBA returns a solid group of players from last year's team, there is a glaring change for the 2018 squad. The Bulldogs will be without Jay McCoy, who led BBA at quarterback last season and was a stalwart defensively.
For the first time in Thomas' tenure, there is uncertainty at QB, but he feels like every candidate brings something unique to the table.
In practice Monday, Joey McCoy, John Morgantini and Jake Baker were taking reps behind center. All three have experience at the position and figure to be in the mix for the starting quarterback job.
"(Jay) is one of the best players to ever come through this program, so they've got big shoes to fill and it probably won't be done by one person," Thomas said. "We just need guys to step up. Just like every year, you're going to lose seniors. We have good options and they all have a different skill set. We're trying to figure out which guy gives us the chance to do what we really want to do."
The Bulldogs begin their regular season slate against North Country, with a rematch with Bellows Falls — the team that beat them in the semifinal — looming in week three.
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