KDJ: Has the Poughkeepsie Era begun?
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EAST FISHKILL, N.Y. — The team that had been so close to winning a title so many times finally did in 2011. Poughkeepsie, after a decade of near misses and devastating finishes, went wire-to-wire and captured the Section 1 Class A title with an undefeated, and largely untested, campaign.
Poughkeepsie had never won a sectional title in the state-tournament era, finally shedding the “sleeping giant” tag of the last three decades.
Was it a revelation or a mirage? Was it proof that, if you’re on the doorstep enough times, eventually you’re going to break through? Or did the Pioneers do what so many programs across the Hudson Valley feared was bound to happen — did Poughkeepsie learn how to win?
The 2012 season will be all about answering those questions. The Pioneers turned over their roster, graduating 22 seniors, 17 starters and the most electrifying (Josh Oliver) and reliable (Robert Johnson) players in the section last fall.
“This is big boy football,” Poughkeepsie coach Ken Barger said. “There’s not a team out there crying a river over us losing a Josh Oliver or a Robert Johnson. That’s the way it is with any program.”
Yet at the Mid-Hudson Football Camp on Tuesday night, a new core of leaders lined up and the quest for a second straight title began. The confidence that hung over every snap of last season remained, if not thicker.
“We can’t look as ourselves as the champs,” D’Andre Smith said. “We have to just look at coming back here and doing it again.”
Poughkeepsie football was once defined by all the titles they didn't win. They were runners-up on a few occassions in the Nyack dynasty of the mid-2000s, and had a crushing loss to Roosevelt in the 2009 final.
They'd been close countless times. But the trophy case remained empty — until last fall.
While 2011 was about establishing the Poughkeepsie program, 2012 will be about validating it.
“We took a good first step last year, which really set the bar high,” Barger said. “Now it’s up to these guys to live up to that expectation.”
Get to know the 2012 Pioneers:
New QB: Nobody will replace Oliver, who was last year’s MSG Varsity Player of the Year in Section 1. But D’Andre Smith was his understudy and plans to carve his own legacy as he takes over the position. The junior may actually be faster than Oliver in foot-speed and has a strong enough arm to keep defenses from loading the box. One rival coach said of Smith: “They’d be blowing out teams last year and I’m watching the film. And then they’d bring in this kid (Smith) and I was like ‘Oh man, who is this?’ He was that good.” Look for Smith to strive in the same system that Oliver mastered last season. Poughkeepsie will continue to run the no-huddle spread option.
Next big prospect: Brandon Weir is a special kind of player. If you watched his interview online, you’ll know immediately what a bright young man he is. And the colleges are flocking to land the 6-foot-3, 225-pounder, who’s a three-year starter at defensive end and a four-year starter on the offensive line. Weir, a punishing hitter, will be the roving defensive player that typically racks up tackles in the Pioneers' defense. Expect a big year and for his list of college prospects to keep on growing.
Super soph: Sophomore Devante Hamilton could be a breakout star for the Pioneers. The 6-foot-2 receiver has exceptional hands and won’t get beat on any ball in the air. He caught a long touchdown pass on an underthrown ball on Tuesday night, stiff-arming a Millbrook defender, and waltzed into the end zone. Barger said he could be a secret weapon. It won’t be long until the secret is out.
Depth on the perimeter: Poughkeepsie graduated players at almost every position. But the receiver position could be the most intriguing when you consider nobody on the current roster caught a pass last season. But the receiving corp will be a strength again. Hamilton is on the verge of a breakout year. Adolfo Peralta had an outstanding camp after not playing last season. And Joshua Taylor will be a serious downfield threat. Despite little-to-no varsity experience, don’t be shocked if they enter the postseason as one of Class A’s most productive units.
Different type of run game: The Pioneers have long been a perimeter running team, using their depth of speed. Kenneth Charter was a durable back last season. But Jahvan Maxwell, at 6-foot, 210 pounds, will be a bruiser between the tackles. “It’s a little bit of a different style for us,” Barger said. “You’ve seen us run with smaller, faster kids. Javon is a little bigger and stronger. We’re going to try to establish the run a little bit and use that to set up what we do.”
Keep an eye on: Poughkeepsie has some serious beef up front. Justen Delgado (6-3, 240) and Weir may be two of the “smaller” linemen. The Pioneers are promoting some big bodies from the junior varsity.
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Email Kevin Devaney Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org