By ROB JONAS
ROTTERDAM – The hallmark of a strong football program is its ability to play well, even while in the midst of a “rebuilding” year.
Schalmont went through such a phase last year. The Sabres started several sophomores and juniors new to the varsity level, and they earned a share of the Class B Reinfurt Division title – along with Hudson and Cobleskill-Richmondville – with a 4-1 record.
Still, the growing pains were evident when Schalmont played outside of the Reinfurt Division. The Sabres lost three of their four non-divisional games, including a 35-21 loss to Schuylerville in the Class B semifinals.
With most of last year’s starters back for another go-around, Schalmont has its sights set on getting to the Class B Super Bowl in 2018.
“We’re a lot more experienced this year,” said junior quarterback Shane O’Dell. “We’ve got a lot of good athletes again, just like last year.”
O’Dell is one of 18 juniors on Schalmont’s roster this year and the driving force of the Sabres’ offense.
“He threw for more than 1,000 yards as a sophomore and ran for about 350 more,” said Schalmont head coach Joe Whipple.
Several more skill position players are back for the Sabres, including running backs Darnell Green and Jake Sanford, as well as wide receiver LJ Randle. The offensive line is anchored by senior center Wade Funk – one of five Schalmont players entering their third season on varsity.
“We definitely feel like we can go out and surprise some people,” said Funk. “Some people aren’t expecting much out of us, but we think we have a team that can get to the Super Bowl.”
Getting to Super Bowl Weekend won’t be easy in Class B. Two-time defending champion Glens Falls has senior quarterback Joe Girard III ready to lead the Indians’ offense, and Schuylerville has several starters back.
Schalmont defensive coordinator Mike Hurteau said stopping some of Class B’s offenses will be a challenge, but one he believes the Sabres can handle.
“We have a good core group of kids returning, and we have some talented newcomers,” said Hurteau, who is entering his third season on Whipple’s coaching staff.
Schalmont has a challenge to start the regular season on Friday, Aug. 31 – hosting two-time defending state Class AA champion Troy. The Flying Horses, who moved to Class A this season, carry a 26-game winning streak into the contest.
To a man, though, Schalmont isn’t shirking from the challenge.
“It’s just another game to us,” said O’Dell. “We’re not intimidated just because they’re back-to-back state champs.”
“We’ll play them; we’ll play anybody,” said Whipple. “We’ll play the [New York] Giants if they’re on the schedule.”