Everyone starts the season with a clean slate. That’s among the reasons the opening day of practice is a beautiful thing.
It’s especially true when you are part of a football team trying to make up for a lost time. In Eden/North Collins’ case, the Raiders are trying to make up for a lost season.
They took a big step forward Monday afternoon.
Eden/NC is back in business, returning to the field more than a year after cancelling its 2015 varsity campaign due to lack of players. Twenty-five student-athletes hit the practice field determined to not only restore the glory of their beloved program but also renew acquaintances with teammates and coaches they haven’t shared the field with for a long time.
“It’s good to be with the kids we grew up with and all the familiar faces,” said senior running back Owen Krouse, who has started on varsity since his freshman year. “It’s nice to have our coaches back.”
“It’s a nice change of scenery,” added senior quarterback Andy Bialy. “It’s nice to be representing Eden, again.”
The Raiders were one of the last to take the field Monday as football teams throughout the state were permitted to practice together for the first time. Lake Shore, on the other hand, may very well have been the first of Western New York’s 72 teams to get to work with players reporting for practice at 7:30 a.m.
Unlike last August, the Eagles didn’t have to welcome unfamiliar faces from another school district to their team. Lake Shore took on six Eden/NC athletes who needed a place to play after Eden athletic director Marisa Fallacaro and then coach Chuck Tilley decided against promoting undersized junior varsity players to the big squad as a way of saving the season by reaching the state minimum roster-size requirement of 16.
New coach Mike Alessi, who piloted junior varsity to a 6-1 mark last season and has been with Eden since 2012, believes this team will benefit from that decision in the long run and turn some heads.
He has coached every player on his roster at least for one full season and is familiar with each’s abilities. It is for that reason that the team has great expectations during its comeback season.
“There’s a buzz,” said Alessi, who also was an assistant under Tilley back in 2014 and is an Eden graduate. “The kids are excited. I couldn’t be more pleased that this is my first team as coach. … Our expectations are always going to be to win championships.”
Perhaps a run at the Class C North Division title will serve as a proper announcement that football is back in corn country. Until then, word of mouth and social media will have to do, as Alessi discovered prior to Monday’s workout when he asked a delivery man if he had any packages for the football team.
“He was like, ‘Oh, you have a team,’” Alessi said. Yes, Eden has a team. Just ask the former Lake Shore players.
“It’ll be nice to play our final year in maroon and white at Eden,” Bialy said. “That’s what I’m looking forward to the most.”
While the Raiders’ return is something to keep track of this season, it’s not the only topic that will be on the tip of fans’ tongues this season. Storylines to follow include:
• St. Francis senior quarterback Jerry Hickson’s pursuit of the Western New York career passing yards record. Hickson, the all-time leader in that category in Monsignor Martin history, enters his senior season with 5,528. Cincinnati Bengals rookie signal-caller Joe Licata, the former Williamsville South (2008-10) and University at Buffalo standout, holds the scholastic mark with 6,671 yards.
• Can Cheektowaga make it to the state final four for the third year in a row after winning the last two Section VI Class B championships?
• What can South Park do for an encore after becoming the first Buffalo Public Schools program to win a state championship?
• Can Bennett return to the soon-to-be former Ralph and finish the job after suffering a pair of gut-wrenching losses to Cheektowaga (Class B) and Maple Grove/Chautauqua Lake (Class C) in Section VI finals the last two seasons?
• With Maple Grove returning to solo status in Class D for one season, does that make the Red Dragons the team to beat in that class? Or is it defending champion Franklinville/Ellicottville? How about Randolph, whose run of three straight state titles ended last season?
The answers will begin unfolding with the start of Week One on Sept. 2.