Athletes Footnotes: More Offseason Pondering
By PHIL DUSENBURY
We'll pick up where we left off in the last "Athletes Footnotes" - pondering offseason questions. Last time we looked briefly at Classes D, C and B. Let's move on now to the next class.
CLASS A: IS ANYONE ABLE TO CATCH UP WITH WALLKILL? Last year the Panthers lifted play to the next level. I'm not just talking about their on-field success which took them to 19 seconds from winning a state title. I'm more focused on their year-round program which led to that success.
Wallkill has its "Bigger, Faster, Stronger" program of conditioning and weight-lifting well entrenched. The kids, as well as their coaches, are sold on it. And how can you argue with success? "Aw, comeon," you may challenge. "Look at the talent they had last year." True. Wallkill had some top-line talent with more than adequate depth and probably would have won the Class A title even without "BSF." But I guarantee the Blue Cats wouldn't have won it so convincingly.
Cases-in-point. I watched Wallkill in its 2004 preseason scrimmage on a very hot Saturday morning. The Panthers were already in great shape and ready for the season. To open their campaign they overwhelmed Pine Bush and Saugerties by a combined score of 91-0. Then came their first big challenge: an away game against strong AA Kingston. Wallkill displayed its conditioning in this one, driving an amazing 99 yards in the game's final 1:09 to edge the disbelieving Tigers, 13-12.
Next up was the big Class A matchup at Port Jervis. After an excitingly close first half, the Panthers took a 10-7 lead into the lockerroom. The second half, however, was an entirely different game. Final score: 31-14. Port was left in the smoke of Wallkill's afterburners.
Dave Der Cola's boys then blew past their next three overmatched opponents by a combined score of 134-20. Next up was rugged defending champ Cornwall which was ready to mix it up. Wallkill took a narrow 14-7 lead at the half which ended with the Dragons at the Panther 19. Then came that second half. Well-conditioned Wallkill turned it up a notch and won again, 35-13.
The title game rematch with Port was no contest. 33-0. While others were dragging at the end of a long season, the Panthers, it seemed, were just getting warmed up. What they did in the state tournament speaks for itself. Wallkill simply got stronger and stronger as the season continued.
So to answer my own question ...
Yes, the Panthers have lost a ton of talent but don't shed any tears. TE Rob Gomez and LB/P Dave Magnanini should be two of the area's very best players. Other returning starters include fine OT Brian Pupiales, SS Keith Pagan and DE Kyle Livsey. Derrick Powers had to play behind Maloney-Drobot-Pedrick in the offensive backfield last year. Expect him to be an outstanding rusher. Meanwhile Kelley Trevor should do a solid job of taking the placekicking role vacated by record-setting Adolfo Rivera. Wallkill also had another 13 juniors on that '04 team and will have some fine talent stepping up from the successful jayvee squad as well.
The Panthers haven't rested on their laurels. In addition to the "BSF" program, Coach Der Cola has instituted a 10-week Leadership Academy in which potential captains and coaches learn about confronting less-disciplined teammates, refocusing the team when it becomes distracted and holding teammates accountable to higher standards. Along with Gomez, Pagan, Livsey, Pupiales, Magnanini and Anthony Muscente, three sophs are involved. They are Steve Rola, A. J. Calvo and Zack Henke.
No, Wallkill may not make it to the state final in 2005, but it should certainly be the Class A team to beat in Section Nine.