Football Northstars primed for championship push
8/30/2017 10:00 AM

Yes, the banner inside the Cicero-North Syracuse gymnasium remains devoid of any Section III football championships. But it might not stay that way.

In 2016, head coach Dave Kline used that empty banner as a motivating force for a Northstars team that tore through the regular season and then two playoff games. Then it got within 12 minutes of that long-elusive championship, only to get denied by Christian Brothers Academy in the Carrier Dome.

That 27-14 defeat left a hurt that lasted for a long time among all of the C-NS players. But it didn’t take long for them to turn that pain into nine months of painstaking offseason work to get ready for 2017 and another chance to win it all.

It helped, no doubt, that C-NS returns a stacked lineup on both sides of the ball. True, some key players, including Kaleb Woodcock and Rocco Rachetta on the front line and Landry Rogers at wide receiver, but many more are back.

Head coach Dave Kline said that his team was ahead of schedule a season ago, and that things were really pointed toward this year in terms of starting a long run at the top. With this group, Kline might get his wish.

On offense, the Northstars have Conner Hayes back for his junior season at quarterback. As a sophomore, Hayes matured into the leader’s role, and playing through post-season pressure only added to his education.

Also, said Kline, Hayes worked hard in the off-season building up his physical strength. That helps on several fronts, from being able to take hits in the pocket to throwing long, accurate passes to a fine group of receivers led by Tyler Days.

‘At 6-foot at 195 pounds, Days had a solid 2016 season, but impressed even more in off-season workouts, where he was clocked at 4.51 seconds in the 40-yard dash. That led to college offers, and Days announced early in August that he is going to Boston College next fall.

Teams can’t double up on Days, either, because the Northstars have a fleet of strong wideouts, including Lucas Merluzzi, Omar Mere and Peyton Watts. There’s also Kyle Cody at the wing spot, aided by Jack Collins and Jacob Messie.

But C-NS is hardly a pass-first outfit, not with the tremendous size it has on its front line. Tackles Lorenzo Thompson (6-foot-7, 250 pounds) and Reis Spicer (295 pounds) are both among the best in the area, while guards Adam Mosher and Brady Mills both check in at 290 pounds. Center John Catania has slimmed down to 270 pounds.

As a unit, said Spicer, “all of us know each other, and we know how to work together.” And aside from protecting Hayes, they’ll create holes for speedy running back Erik Pride to plow through as Pride bulked up 25 pounds in the off-season to add some power. Jaiquawn McGriff also should see some carries.

What might prove tough for C-NS this fall is to get a defense as good as the one that, in a four-week stretch last fall, allowed just 19 points, peaking with a 34-0 shutout of rival Liverpool in the annual “Star Wars Cup” game.

Thompson and Mosher head up a solid defensive line while, at linebacker, Messie returns to start, as does Cameron Pisa, with help from McGriff, Collins and Josh Lawrence.

Junior cornerback Jeremiah Willis had quite an off-season, which included a pair of state track and field championships in the long jump and triple jump at the end of his sophomore year. Jordan Seltzer and Nate Geloff also are at corner spots, while Days, Mere and Watts fit into the safety rotation.

C-NS gets a test from Fairport Thursday night in the season-opening Kickoff Classic at the Dome. A Sept. 16 trip to Liverpool, and an Oct. 6 visit by Baldwinsville to Bragman Stadium, might hold the keys to the Class AA-2 division race.

Kline said that his players learned plenty last fall, first that it could play at a championship level, but that it took a total effort to pull it off. Now, said Kline, “they’ve been building to this year and they’ve been focused”, and the only satisfaction will come if that empty banner gets something put on it in November.

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