UTICA – The 2018 season is pretty much a blank slate for Proctor football.
Steve Strife’s Raiders have to replace nearly its entire starting units on both sides of the football.
Gone are star quarterback Logan Wilcox, running backs Jalen Woodson and Landon Johnson and leading receivers Mike Boyer, Jasyn Bonner and John Boyd. Defensively, Steve Strife’s squad lost the majority of its starters.
The good news: The Raiders are loaded with young talent, many coming off last season’s undefeated junior varsity program.
“We have some returning guys, but most of our skilled guys are new, so we’ll see what happens,” Strife said. “We’ve had discussions with the coaching staff on what to expect and what the kids know and don’t know about playing at this level.
“Our kids ran through the JV division last year … but this is not JV. We had the discussion with them last week that it was great for them to go through last season and beat everybody, but this is different.”
The competition at the Class AA level is stout, to say the least. The Raiders were experienced and talented last season, but lost to Corcoran in the quarterfinals. The league has some of the best teams in the state and challenging perennial powers Cicero-North Syracuse, Baldwinsville and Christian Brothers Academy is a difficult task for even the most talented programs.
While the Raiders might be a year away from contending with the elite for a Class AA title, they are focused on surprising many and competing at a high level this season.
“That really has been the hype that next year we’re going to be really good and this year we are not going to be as good,” returning junior tackle/linebacker Evan Gohringer said.
“But I still think we are going to be good this year. We have a lot of guys who know what they’re doing. I’ve been working with all the returners and rookies on getting their jobs done and doing what they have to do at their new positions.”
Over the last few season’s Strife knew Wilcox, who is playing at Utica College, was going to lead the offense. This season he has multiple options with Isaiah Warmack transferring in from Notre Dame, Zhani James, a versatile talent, and last season’s junior varsity starter, Bryce Mclean.
“Right now there are three guys battling,” Strife said. “So with those three guys it might be quarterback by committee because they all do other things and play multiple positions. Losing Logan is obviously a big loss, but it is next man up. Every year it’s like that … that’s high school sports.”
Proctor isn’t completely lacking returning talent as Gohringer, sophomore guard Matt Arcuri and junior receiver/defensive back Saleh Eltayeb are a few of the Raiders who have varsity experience. All three will be looked at as leaders of this talented, but inexperienced squad.
“We try to make practice like game situations,” Eltayeb said. “We have a young team and sometimes in games things don’t go your way and you can’t get down. So we try to practice like it’s a game and when things go wrong, we keep everyone up. If we work together we can be really good. Last year we had a lot of good players, but I feel like this year we play better together because we’re all closer in age and have better chemistry.”
Joining Gohringer in helping pave the way up front is Arcuri, who started every game as a freshman last season.
“I’d say our run game is going to be good,” Gohringer said. “We have a lot of good running backs and our offensive line blocking is improving more and more every day.”
The line has a talented backfield to block for as Jabril Jarrett, Tasean Cooper, Louis Robinson, Patrick Minor, Mike Reali and Warmack should all see plenty of time at running back.
“We’re going to play a ton of guys,” Strife said. “We are a jet sweep offense and it’s going to be different jet guy every time. Warmack will also run jet sweep when we put Mclean in at quarterback. So we’re going to run a lot of backs.”
On the outside, the Raiders lost a ton, but will rely on Eltayeb, Felix De Asa Delacruz and Kurshawn Feliciano to get things done.
Defensively, the Raiders have nearly an entire new cast of characters behind middle linebacker, Gohringer and returning defensive end Victor Lebron.
Gohringer is taking responsibility to lead the defensive unit and making sure they are all on the same page.
“Our defensive line is strong,” Gohringer said. “We have a whole scheme going on with different formations and different stems. We’ve been doing a good job working together and communicating our calls.”
With so many variables and unknowns, the Raiders have to use every second of the next week to get ready to mesh in time for next Friday’s season opener against Binghamton at the Carrier Dome. The Raiders don’t have the luxury of having a slew of veteran leaders.
The benefit of having just 11 seniors on its 40-player roster is these young Raiders can experience the growing pains together and learn from their mistakes because nearly this entire group will be together for the next few seasons.
“A lot of teams we are going to play have most of their players back,” Strife said. “That’s going to be us next year. For now we are going to put them into the fire and see what happens. That’s all you can do because the season is coming.”
Proctor Raiders 2018 Football Schedule
Aug. 31: vs. Binghamton, 8 p.m. at Carrier Dome
Sept. 7: at Henninger, 6:30
Sept. 14: at Fayeteville-Manlius, 7
Sept. 22: vs. West Genesee, 1:30
Sept. 29: vs. Baldwinsville, 1:30
Oct. 5: at Rome Free Academy, 7
Oct. 13: vs. Cicero-North Syracuse, 1:30