VALATIE — A young Ichabod Crane football team will kick off its season on Saturday at 2 p.m. with a road game against Hoosick Falls/Tamarac at Watervliet High School.
Head coach Tom Call has a talented 28-player roster to work, but the Riders have just two seniors, only one of which that has experience playing organized football.
Despite the inexperience, Call likes what he’s seen so far from the team in practice.
“Everything seems to be going pretty well. We have a young group this year. Everybody is really competitive and flying around and really getting after it.”
The Riders will have just two weeks of practice under their belts heading into Saturday’s opener, but Call and his young team are just happy that there are games to be played. The coronavirus pandemic forced the high-risk sports like football to be moved from the Fall to early spring. So far, that hasn’t been a problem, Call says.
“It’s definitely different, but the group of kids we have are resilient and they’re taking it all in stride. It doesn’t seem to affect them at all. They’re just happy to be out there.
“The coaches didn’t think there would be a season at all, but when they changed the guidances it was like hurry up and get the team together and get ready to go.”
With such a small window of opportunity to prepare for the season, Call has elected to keep things simple in practice.
“I think the key is to just try and keep everything the same,” Call said. “We’ve been practicing pretty much the same way, the only real difference is we have one less week of preparation for our first game.
“Usually we would have scrimmage week this week, so maybe we don’t have everything in the playbook, but for the most part we have what we’re going to need for that first game.”
Even with less time to prepare on the field, Call feels his team will be ready as the players were able to get in some online learning time before they were given the OK to hit the field.
“We didn’t have scrimmage this year, but we started a Google classroom when everything shut down last year, so we were holding Google meets with the kids and trying to do installs through that,” Call said. “It was pretty great and when we finally got the OK to do some open gyms, we did that about a month or two before the season started. But we’re going to go out and do what we do.”
The Riders suffered key losses to graduation in All-State TE/DE Haydon Broockmann, quarterback Austin Walsh and running back Marcus George, but Call does like what he’s seen from his youngsters.
“We have a good core group of young kids. Really the way we’re approaching the season is more of it being like a two-year season because we have so many returning guys in the Fall.
“We have Joe Penzabene as our quarterback and he’s been doing a great job. Jason Craig has been a pretty good leader for us, he’s returning and then you look at some of the younger guys like Thomas Cooper with the interior line and Ben Vecellio. Then some of the skill guys, you have Austin Race and even a guy like Zion Evans, he could flash. He’s just a ninth grader, but has shown some really good things in practice.”
The defensive side of the ball is a little less settled, but Call is encouraged.
“It’s always tough with a small roster to know what your going to have defensively. We really won’t know until Saturday comes. With all the individual drills we’ve been doing, the guys physicality-wise seem to be there. That’s the most important thing.”
A familiar face to Riders’ girls soccer fans has joined the football team as Abigail Dolge will handle the kicking duties.
“Special teams is a third of the game, so just being able to flip the field and when we drive down the field and get close we can put her out there and get a guaranteed three points,” Call said.
“She’s been outstanding. It was kind of a chance thing. We were sitting in the gym talking about what we were going to do at kicker, she walks in and we were just kind of half joking, but half serious asked her if she wanted to kick for us and she was like ‘absolutely.’
The Riders will be playing a Class C schedule this year and Call and his staff — Ken Schultz, Guy Changa, Anthony Miller, Bob Allard, Dan Cremo and Tim Stewart —doesn’t expect any drop-off in the caliber of talent the team will be facing.
“Even though it’s kind of an oddball season, we want to be competitive, go out and play as hard as we can. We’ve been telling the kids, the competition is not going to be any worse. We might see roster sizes that are similar to ours, which is going to be the main thing.
“Just finishing the season would be great, Call said. “All things considered, hopefully, we won’t run into any quarantine issues. We’re going down in class, which is probably why we have only two seniors, but I want to be competitive for sure.”
The Riders will play their first five games on the road, but Call is hoping to get at least one home crossover game at the end of the season.
SENIORS: Jason Craig (WR/DB), Ryan Tomchik (WR/LB).
JUNIORS: Brandon Gerke (WR/DB), Joe Penzabene (QB/OL/LB), Abigail Dolge (K), Brian Van Allen-Hamm (OL/LB), Alex Igras (OL/LB), Bradley Duso (OL/DL), Tyshon Richardson (OL/DL), Thomas Cooper (OL/DL), Erik Holmberg (WR/DB).
SOPHOMORES: Austin Race (WR/DB), Connor Booth (QB/WR/DB), Zach Igras (WR/DB), Connor Ackerly (RB/LB), Ryan Putnam (RB/LB), Addison Morrison (OL/LB), Teddy Lerman (OL/LB), Ben Vecellio (OL/DL), Gabe DeLong (OL/DL), Lucas Jensen (OL/DL), Connor Strobel (WR/DB), Dylan McCrudden (WR/DB).
FRESHMEN: Zion Evans (WR/DB), Derick Benn (RB/DB), Tyler Ringwood (OL/DL), Matthew Wolfe (OL/DL), Cameron Cutler (OL/DL).
March 20: vs. Hoosick Falls/Tamarac at Watervliet H.S., 2 p.m.; March 27: at Taconic Hills, 2 p.m.; April 2: at Coxsackie-Athens, 6 p.m.; April 10, at Catskill/Cairo-Durham, 1 p.m.; April 16: at Watervliet, 7 p.m.; April 23-24: crossover; April 30-May 1: crossover.