Rome Free Academy and Notre Dame don’t play each other in football. RFA is in Class AA and Notre Dame has moved down to Class C.
However, the two teams will be linked for the 2018 season.
Jake DerCola led Notre Dame from 2014-17, winning back-to-back sectional titles in 2014 and 2015. He is now the head coach at RFA. Taking his place leading the Jugglers is 26-year-old Genaro Scampone, a former player at Proctor and player/coach at Utica College.
Both DerCola and Scampone have taken similar paths to the head coaching ranks. Each used being an assistant coach at Utica College as a springboard to getting their first lead jobs. Coincidentally, it was DerCola’s move to Notre Dame that was the first domino in leading Scampone to getting his dream job. It’s an opportunity Scampone is eager to fully take advantage of.
“I’m very excited for the season,” Scampone said. “I’m getting used to what it’s like to be part of high school football and coaching the guys up and installing our offense, defense and special teams and watching them buy in and execute it. I think the most exciting part will be seeing it all come together on game day and watching these guys fly around and have fun.”
The cupboard is full of talented players for the Jugglers, who could challenge for the Class C title this season after moving down from Class B.
Leading the charge is senior quarterback Treijen Garrett, who is equally dangerous as a passer or runner. Isiah Czarnecki (LB/RB) and Zach Brush (LB/WR) are two more top returners for Notre Dame, which also has an experienced and talented offensive line fueling the offense.
Brush sees plenty of similarities between DerCola and Scampone.
“He knows what he’s talking about and how to interact with the kids,” Brush said of getting to know Coach Scampone. “We have a lot of seniors and leaders to bring up the young kids and we should have a good year. Both coaches come from UC so the offense is pretty similar. Sometimes you can’t tell the difference … but (Coach Scampone) is very intense.”
Brush teams with Czarnecki to form one of the best linebacker groups in the section.
“Me and Isaiah, as linebackers, are leaders of the defense,” Brush said. “We hope to keep everything under control and go out and make tackles.”
Their head coach knows something about the position as Scampone played linebacker and fullback at Proctor and was a three-year starter at outside linebacker at Utica College, where he was a two-year captain for the Pioneers.
The Jugglers, who played in Section III’s Class B East Division last year, are now in the Class C East with Adirondack, Canastota, Clinton, Holland Patent, Little Falls, Mount Markham and Sherburne-Earlville. Canastota has been the top dog in the league over the past few seasons, but the Jugglers should challenge in their first season back in Class C.
While Scampone is looking forward to a great 2018 season, he also is aware of the importance and task ahead in maintaining long-term success. One worry this season is the Jugglers have 23 rostered players.
“I want to consistently make this an excellent program,” Scampone said. “We strive for greatness in everything we do and I want that to spread out to the community so we still have numbers every year and I don’t have to worry about what’s going to turn up every year. … And I hope we can just keep on churning out players and successful seasons every year.”
-While Notre Dame is primed to challenge this season, DerCola and the Black Knights are in the infancy stages of rebuilding the storied program back into a perennial contender. RFA’s sectional title came in 1996, while the Black Knights haven’t won their league since 2006.
DerCola replaces Ted Swavely, a former RFA lineman who resigned as the Black Knights’ head football coach in November after finishing 1-8 during his ninth season. Bringing in an entirely new system to RFA, DerCola likes what he has seen from his team as they prepare for hosting Nottingham in Friday’s opener.
“The biggest thing is kids learning a new scheme, new terminology and they’ve done a pretty well with that as well as learning new and different ways at attacking things. The nice part is everyone has been open with the change and going with it.”
Senior quarterback Isaac Wishart will be leading the offense with Amir Williams and Gary Kimball among the top returning backs. Anthony Cudhea, Cam Williams and Isaha Garner are the top options on the outside.
The offensive line will have to come together quickly if DerCola’s college-style offense is to work at an optimal level. Returning starters Brady Wood and Brandon Laribee will be leaned on to lead the way as the other pieces develop into their roles.
The same could be said for an inexperienced defense that has Wood and James Faso returning on the defensive line. Junior linebacker Shane O’Connell will run the second level, while Cudhea and Garner lead the secondary.
Wood, a two-way starting lineman for the Black Knights, is enjoying the philosophical change and new start. The senior saw quick progress during Saturday’s scrimmage against Binghamton and Henninger.
“It’s definitely a different ballgame this year, Wood said. “We did very well in the scrimmage … honestly better than I thought we were going to do. (Coach DerCola) brings more of a college atmosphere. With the summer workouts you could tell right away he brings more of an emphasis on skills and more learning, football wise. We’ve learned a lot from coach DerCola, (assistant) coach (Billie) Mays and the other coaches, so I think we have a good future and I’m looking forward to the season.”
Despite the ability of his team to quickly grasp his system, DerCola knows he’s in for a long process and aims to build the proud program from the ground up. In Class AA, the Black Knights will have to deal with perennial state powers in Cicero-North Syracuse, Baldwinsville and Christian Brothers Academy, just to name a few.
“The biggest thing is being competitive, being in each game and winning the games we should win,” DerCola said. “I know last year they were close a couple of times but couldn’t get over the hump.
“Ultimately playing for something at the end of the year is what we want to do. The way our schedule kind of works out, which is nice, is yes we have C-NS and Baldwinsville as our first league games, but after that, the rest of the three teams it’s going to be a dogfight … and hopefully the ball bounces our way and we play well. … And in five or six years, hopefully we’re competing for sectional titles.”
RFA Black Knights 2018 Schedule
Aug. 31: vs. Nottingham, 7
Sept. 7: vs. Whitesboro, 7
Sept. 14: at Cicero-North Syracuse, 7
Sept. 21: at Baldwinsville, 6:30
Sept. 28: at Fayetteville-Manlius, 7
Oct. 5: vs. Proctor, 7
Oct. 12: at West Genesee, 6
Notre Dame Jugglers 2018 Schedule
Sept. 1: at Little Falls, 1
Sept. 15: vs. Mount Markham, 2
Sept. 22: at Clinton, 2
Sept. 28: at Canastota, 7
Oct. 6: vs. Holland Patent, 2
Oct. 13: at Adirondack, 2