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Sports Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, August 20, 2009

Blackbirds looking to bounce back from a grim season

By Jordan J. Michael

VOORHEESVILLE –– It may take a little time, but players on the Blackbird football team are ready to be winners again.

The 2008 campaign got off to a bad start when five players were suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs. That incident, along with key injuries, were mostly to blame for Voorheesville’s 2-7 record.

“The problems of last year have been removed from our minds,” said Co-Captain Chad Hoffart after Tuesday’s scorching hot practice. “You can’t dwell on the past. There’s too much football to be played.”

The Blackbirds didn’t just lose games last year, the team got downright pummeled in a couple. For example, a 62-7 loss to Chatham left Voorheesville sitting at 0-4.

“Last year, our toughest opponents were back-to-back and we weren’t really completing our assignments on the field,” said Head Coach Joe Sapienza, going into his 16th year at the helm. “Now, we’ve gained more experience and the schedule is more spread out.”

Quarterback and Co-Captain Ryan Duncan, a second year starter, told The Enterprise that the different schedule will allow more recuperating time for the team. “We got Chatham, Fonda, and Watervliet all in a row last season and that turned out to be pretty painful,” he said.

Sapienza’s biggest indicator of a turnaround for Voorheesville was the players’ involvement before the first practice on Monday. Fifteen of the team’s 25 members were working out together in the winter.

“The off-season commitment always needs to be strong and it’s ultimately positive,” Sapienza said. “My team is already a couple of weeks ahead.”

According to Co-Captain C.J. Bouvier, all 25 players were involved in some sort of off-season workouts. Also, team members are getting together frequently to build friendships. “We hang out and have fun and boost the spirits,” said Bouvier. “You see a whole different side of things and it builds trust.”

Learning to win

The Blackbirds still have the same key players as a year before. Some talent has left the field, but new talent has been picked up from the junior-varsity team.

“The first thing we need to do is to learn how to win and what it takes,” said Sapienza. “At this point, we’re talented enough to win games, but we need to develop that winning attitude. We have some new guys that worked real hard and know how to play. This team just has to do a better job.”

Voorheesville is coming back in 2009 with the same quarterback, offensive line, and running back. Five players return to the defense and the team now has more threats at wide receiver.

“There’s a lot to learn here and I think we’re coming together pretty well,” Hoffart said. “Things are a lot more balanced because we’re relying on more players and more senior leadership. I think we’ll execute, but the defense needs to be crucial.”

“I’m glad that I have more receivers to throw to this year. We didn’t have that before,” said Duncan. “We have five guys now that can step up and catch the ball. It makes things more comfortable.”

James Currier, Mike Noland, Nick Brokley, and Alex Kandel were all snatching passes from Duncan on Tuesday with little to no drops. Brokley and Kandel are up from the junior-varsity team.

“The passing game is our biggest strength right now. Duncan’s throws were dead on today,” Sapienza said. “I expect the same things every year as a coach, but the philosophy might change a little bit. In the past, we’ve typically been a smash-mouth running team, but we’re going to put the ball in the air more.”

Sapienza told The Enterprise that Duncan is a force to be reckoned with in Class C. Duncan passed for over 200 yards in each of the final two games last year and his arm has only gotten stronger. “Duncan has been here since he was a freshman,” Sapienza said. “He’s setting a positive example.”

Max Schuster had four rushing touchdowns last season on a small amount of carries. “The running game is still a threat,” said Sapienza.

The Blackbirds have some work to do on defense and the first priority is not giving up so many points to opponents. “We gave up a substantial amount of points last year,” said Sapienza. “The defense needs to come along and step up. We need to plug more holes on the run and have tighter pass coverage.”

Chatham fever

The first game is home against Chatham at 1 p.m. on Sept. 5. The team doesn’t want to talk about anything but Chatham.

“That’s such a huge opening game for us,” Bouvier said. “It’s all we’re thinking about. You know, winning that game would be a fresh start.”

After the opening game against Chatham, Voorheesville gets another home game against Catholic Central and then the team travels to Cairo-Durham before coming back home for Watervliet. The Blackbirds get four home games this season.

“That first game is an important part to getting the winning mentality back,” said Sapienza. “My players are obsessed with the thought of beating Chatham. If we beat them, then I’ll feel really good about the rest of the year.”

“I think it’s our job to bring our name back to a winning nature,” Hoffart said. “It’ll be a big bonus if we win that first one and kill all of last year’s ghosts.”

Coach Sapienza and his players are ready to move forward.

“That whole thing last year had a real negative effect on everyone,” said Sapienza. “I’m not the type of person that ever forgets, but sometimes you just have to deflect the bad and put it past you. For good.”

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