VERONA – The Vernon-Verona-Sherrill football team has a beautiful new all-purpose field that should be ready for the Red Devils’ home opener in Week 5.
VVS head coach Gary Oliver and the rest of his coaching staff hopes the Red Devils’ young and inexperienced defense comes together long before then. With much of a high-powered offense returning from last season’s 7-2 squad, the success of the 2018 VVS football season will likely rest on how quickly the defense develops.
“Offensively we have a lot of guys back,” Coach Oliver said. “There are a few spots we have to fill, but mainly we have most of our guys back. Defensively we have a lot of spots to fill … we only have three returners. Hopefully we’ll be okay on offense. Defensively we have to get kids in the right spots.”
The Red Devils enjoyed a successful season in 2017, going 6-1 (7-2 overall) in the ultra-competitive Class B East before losing to eventual-champion Homer in the sectional semifinals. The Red Devils have a strong backfield on offense with quarterback Alex Oliver and running backs Tyler Rotach and Bryce Cousin leading the way behind a physical and experienced offensive line.
The one hole could be trying to replace do-everything receiver Nate Palmer, who was a dynamic, receiver, runner and returner.
“We lost our main wide receiver,” Oliver said of trying to replace the electric playmaking that Palmer provided. “But we have talented players like Travis Decker and Mike Guertin coming in. They can be big for us. They can come in and play big roles on this team.”
Up front the line is relatively intact with center Matt Ciotti, tackle Ben Joanis and guards Andrew Seelman and Luke Stoltz returning and leading the way for Rotach, Oliver and Cousin.
“On offense we have our big boys back and pretty much all our same pieces,” Alex Oliver said. “Our backfield is pretty much the same and at wide receiver, they’ll have to step up.”
Navigating the difficult Class B East will be extremely difficult. The Red Devils open with a league clash against Central Valley Academy at 2 p.m. Aug. 31 at the Carrier Dome. From there VVS hits the road for three straight weeks, playing at Mexico, New Hartford and Cazenovia before hosting Camden and unveiling their new stadium equipped with field turf.
“It’s a very tough division top to bottom,” Coach Oliver said. “You have to be prepared every week. Every week you need to come to play. With Chittenango coming over on our side makes it even tougher. But I’d rather have it that way than have a bye or crossover that doesn’t mean anything.”
For that home opener to have meaning, the young defense will have to come together quickly in order to handle the tough week-to-week tests.
Oliver (DB), Ciotti (LB) and defensive end Cade Decker are the three returning starters on the defensive side of the ball. Rotach, who expects to step in and become a leader from his outside linebacker spot, feels the talent and drive is there for the Red Devils to become a quality defense.
“We lost a big part of our defense,” Rotach said. “But with guys coming up we know what we need to do. If we can play as one unit we should be able to fill in for the guys we lost. If our guys stay together and know their roles, I feel like nobody can beat us. Every year our goal is to win sectionals, but that’s a long way off. We have to keep it day-by-day and game-by-game.”
Coach Oliver knows his team has a long road ahead if it hopes to reach, and possibly eclipse, the level last year’s team reached. He can’t just snap his fingers and everything will run smoothly. He puts a lot of the burden on the coaching staff in finding the right mix on the defensive side of the ball.
“We have some things to fill before we get to that spot again,” Coach Oliver said. “When you lose 21 seniors it’s not that easy to just replace those guys because we had some good players who graduated. I think we have some athletic kids. It depends on how fast they learn and for us as coaches moving them around and getting them in the right spots.”
Alex Oliver is not taking anything for granted. One certainty is that he’ll fully enjoy every moment of his senior season.
“I’m taking every game like it’s my last,” Oliver said. I’ll go into every game thinking it could be the last time you take the field and play the game you love. Hopefully it’ll come together and we can make a run.”
VVS Red Devils 2018 Football Schedule
Aug. 31: vs. Central Valley Academy, 2 p.m. at Carrier Dome
Sept. 7: at Mexico, 7 p.m.
Sept. 14: at New Hartford, 7 p.m.
Sept. 22: at Cazenovia, 1 p.m.
Sept. 28: vs. Camden, 7 p.m.
Oct. 5: at Chittenango, 6:30 p.m.
Oct. 12: vs. Oneida, 7 p.m.