By ROB JONAS
DELMAR – The Bethlehem football team has made the Section 2 Class AA playoffs each of the last four years, only to be eliminated in the quarterfinals.
John Carlino wants to change the pattern this year. The first-year head coach is hoping to guide the Eagles to the Section 2 finals for the first time since winning the title in 2001.
“Rick Leach did an excellent job building this program over the last nine years,” said Carlino, who served as Leach’s defensive coordinator last year. “Now, I want to take this team above and beyond, and start winning playoff games.”
Getting to the playoffs will be a challenge for Bethlehem and the other nine teams in Class AA. With two-time defending state champion Troy, LaSalle, Columbia and Ballston Spa dropping to Class A this season, Class AA has adopted a new, one-division alignment and an eight-game regular season schedule – leading to a four-team playoff format.
“Every Friday night is going to be important for us and all the other Class AA teams,” said Carlino.
One thing working in Carlino’s favor is his familiarity with the players who will make up this year’s varsity team. Prior to his role as defensive coordinator in 2017, Carlino spent several years as the junior varsity head coach. Many of the players vying for starting roles on varsity this year have been coached by Carlino in one way or another.
Carlino has already put his players through an off-season regimen that includes time in the weight room and a summer of attending various football camps. This allows Carlino the opportunity to hit the ground running, now that practices have begun.
“A lot of these kids have put in the work during the summer,” said Carlino. “It’s good to get out there [on the practice field] and start talking x’s and o’s.”
Bethlehem opens its regular season at Colonie Friday, Aug. 31. The Eagles’ first home game is Friday, Sept. 14, against Guilderland.