Camp files: Croton-Harmon
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Coach: John Catano
Conference: Section 1 Class B
2011 record: 11-1; NYS Class B runner-up
Five observations from camp:
1) Race horses in the stable: Croton-Hamon returns a plethora of talented, versatile running backs. Nick Grous, Trevor Wolstencroft, Alex Starr, Brian Soares and Jesse Schulze compose the most lethal backfield in Section 1 Class B.
Grous is the most versatile of the bunch, rushing for 803 yards and four touchdowns on 102 carries last season. He also hauled in a team-high 20 catches for 354 yards and six touchdowns. Soares (48 carries, 502 yards and six touchdowns) and Wolstencroft (88 carries, 444 yards and five touchdowns) didn't exactly put up shabby numbers, either.
“They played 23 games in the last two seasons, so they have a lot of experience,” Croton-Harmon coach John Catano said, referring to the Tigers' back-to-back runs deep into the state tournament. “We've had different defenses they've played against, so they are diversified in what they've learned.”
And, boy, are they fast.
“Speed kills,” junior tight end Peter Miller said. “All of our running backs are quicker than most running backs in our league. We will try to get to the outside and make things happen.”
Right now, that seems to be the plan on offense.
“We have a lot of speed guys, so hopefully we can get to the perimeter and beat teams like that,” Grous said.
2) A fresh face, name under center: For only the second time in six years, a Mainiero will not be under center for Croton. With Jesse ('12) and Nick ('08) both playing at Marist College, it is an end of an era in black and orange.
Doesn't exactly sound like best situation for the replacement to walk into, right? Well, new starter Ben Gelfand just might have the perfect temperament for the job.
“It is big shoes to fill, but (Gelfand) puts just the right amount of pressure on himself,” Miller said. “He doesn't stress himself out with anything. He knows what he can do and does what he can. He's just a traditional quarterback — not quite as physical a runner as Jesse but just as fast. I think he's going to have a great year.”
Grous agreed that Gelfand had the “look” of a quarterback. Now, all the former JV starter has to do is look the part on game day.
“We have a lot of guys counting on him to do what he has to do and get the ball where it has to be,” Grous said.
3) Lean, mean blocking machines: Croton graduated three longtime veterans from its dominant offensive line in Kyle Ricciardi (Army), John Brennan (Marist) and Dennis O'Connell (Hobart). For some programs, this would be absolutely crippling. The Tigers just aren't one of them.
“We are confident,” Catano said. “We lost some really good football players but we have a lot of guys to step up to fill those roles.”
In 2012-13, Alex Bowser, Matt Gennarelli, Alek Pavloff, Alex Lamb and Miller, a powerful blocking tight end, will carry on the proud tradition in the trenches. The Tigers are still trying to sort out who will start at center and right tackle, but the core is solidly in place.
With Bowser (5-10, 195 pounds) and Gennarelli (5-11, 220) pulling at the guard positions, there are going to be some giant holes on the for Croton's speedy backs to run through. Both Bowser and Gennarelli are built like freight trains and can move like them, too.
“Bowser and Gennarelli — our senior captains — have been training insanely hard in the offseason and put on a lot of size,” said Miller, who is equally impressive physically at the tight end position.
4) Miller Time: Tight end Peter Miller has the chance to be Croton's most dynamic offensive player. The 6-foot, 200-pound junior can absolutely mash in the trenches and has the speed/hands combo to get open and pick up big yards after the catch. He hauled in eight balls for 116 yards and one touchdown as a sophomore in 2011.
“In our offense, the tight end does a lot of blocking, but last year I got the opportunity to catch a couple passes,” Miller said. “I had about nine or 10 catches, so hopefully I get some more. But I really like to block as well.”
5) Remember the name(s): Two players that could surprise some people this year are Jesse Schulze and Corey Kelly. Both are relatively new to the game but have the kind of raw athleticism to make a difference.
Schulze, who is a standout lacrosse player, joined the team late in the 2011 season and never really established a role. In 2012, he is poised to make some waves as a dangerous skill player.
“He came back last year and hadn't played football in awhile,” Miller said. “He's looking real athletic, has been working out real hard and I think he can make some things happen.”
Kelly, who has great size at 6-3, 240 pounds, looks to have carved out a role on the defensive line.
Players to watch: Nick Grous, Sr., RB/WR/DB; Alex Bowser, Sr., OG/DT; Matt Gennarelli, Sr., OG/MLB; Brian Soares, Sr., RB/DB; Alex Star, Jr., RB/DB; Trevor Wolstencroft, Jr., ILB/FB; Peter Miller, Jr., TE/LB
Names to learn: Ben Gelfand, Jr., QB; Jesse Schulze, Jr., RB/LB; Corey Kelly, Sr., DL; Alex Lamb, Jr., OL/DL
Season outlook: Coach John Catano has built a powerhouse program on the Hudson. The Croton Tigers have become a veritable Section 1 small school dynasty, taking home two Class B titles and one Class C crown over the past four years. They have also made it to the Carrier Dome for the state finals twice.
Still, there's a lingering feeling that maybe the Tigers aren't getting quite the respect that an established power deserves. Most of the conversation around Class B has centered on Lourdes, which returns a very strong squad with overwhelming size at every position.
“I'm a little upset over that,” Catano said. “We will prove ourselves on the field.”
And Miller's ready for the challenge. The two Class B contenders square off in the regular season on September 28 under the lights at Lourdes.
“We don't talk about it, but it is in the back of our minds and it is there everyday,” Miller said. “Lourdes was bigger than us last year, too. I think we have just as good a shot as anyone, but they are a great program as well.”
Croton's program has grown leaps and bounds since it advanced to the Section 1 Class C final in 2006. While the Tigers got trounced by Dobbs Ferry, it was look into the future and what was to come. Over the last four years Croton has racked up an impressive record of 39-6.
“A lot of it has to do with the diversity of the coaches,” Catano said. “We've explored a new offense and changed our defense. We aren't locked into one thing. We fit things to our personnel and I think that's been a big plus for us.”
Now, the players don't want to be part of the team that drops the baton.
“It's just tradition and expecting to win and putting that pressure on yourself to win and working hard to carry on that torch,” Miller said. “No one wants to be the team that brought down the Croton dynasty.”
9/15 Hendrick Hudson
9/22 at Irvington
9/28 at Lourdes
10/20 at Nanuet
Follow Isaac Cass on Twitter @MSGV_Icass | Email him at Icass@cablevision.com