Great expectations

Sept 1-7. 2005
VOL 124 NO. 29
Great expectations
By Luke Eggleston/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Notre Dame Jugglers strive for a championship season

Staff, alumni and students at Notre Dame hope optimism generated by a bright ending to last year’s season will carry over into a new era for Juggler football.

If it is to be, that era starts now.

“We expect [a sectional championship] — absolutely,” said second-year coach Byron Abraham. “That’s the goal of ours every year. We want to win the section and move on.”

The offense will revolve around the talents of senior quarterback Brian Devins. For four years, Devins has labored under center for the Jugglers. At 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, Devins will be asked to martial an offense with aspirations of a balanced attack both in the air and on the ground.

“He’s our focal point. My offense requires a good quarterback,” Abraham said. “He’s a phenomenal athlete, so we’re looking for big things. His strength is his ability to throw the football.”

Abraham hopes to divide the offense fairly evenly, with 40 percent of the plays using the passing game, and 60 percent running.

“I like to run a balanced attack and I’d like to throw the ball not out of necessity but as part of the overall game plan,” the coach said.

Backing up Devins is Tom McCormick, the starting shortstop on Notre Dame’s state champion baseball team. Abraham believes McCormick would be the starting quarterback on many high-school football teams.

“He’s a tremendous athlete, so we’re blessed with some real good skill kids,” Abraham said.

The squad’s running backs include Sean Pansa and Utica Proctor transfer Keith Kerwin. Another potential ball carrier is Brian Hulzer, who is also the team’s returning starter at outside linebacker.

“[Kerwin] is a tremendous athlete, tremendous,” Abraham said. “So we’re excited about our running game and we have capable back-ups for those kids.”

The Jugglers will boast a sturdy line with each starter weighing more than 220 pounds. Nevertheless, the youth along the front line of the offense makes it a question mark.

“I think we will be much improved over last year,” Abraham said. “We’re big. We’re pretty sizable up front. So they’re big, but they’re young. There’s only one senior on the offensive line.”

The coaching staff projects 6-foot, 245-pounder Alex Handzel to man the crucial left tackle position and 6-1, 220-pound sophomore Jordan Zongrone to bookend him on the right side. At 240 pounds, Robert Whittman will likely start at the center position.

The wrecking ball will be right guard Andrew Kaleta. At 6-3, 225 pounds, Kaleta has drawn interest from several Division 1AA football programs including Northeastern, Sacred Heart, Villanova and UMass, as well as Division 1A University of Buffalo. Kaleta two-ways and is the jewel in the crown of the defensive front four as well. Abraham is also excited about 6-1, 220-pound tight end Mike Jarmack, who is also the team’s defensive leader at middle linebacker. Jarmack has received interest from 1AA Sacred Heart.

“Jarmack has the best hands of anybody on our team,” Abraham said. “He catches the ball better than anybody on our team. No question.”

Notre Dame’s top receivers are flanker Dan Ruffrage, a moonlighting basketball player, and 6-3 split end Brandon Riles.

Abraham believes that the Jugglers’ defense will harry opponents with its pace and industry.

“I think [other teams] are going to have to deal with our speed,” the coach said. “We’re going to have a very fast and tenacious, attacking bunch. That’s the way we’re going to play defense. We’re going to play knock-your-socks-off defense.”

Notre Dame opens with Cooperstown Sept. 2. The next opponent on the schedule is Sauquoit, Abraham’s hometown and his high school before transferring to Notre Dame. The Jugglers face Sauquoit Sept. 9 at home.

Stern tests against Class C power General Brown (Sept. 16 on the Lions’ home field) and Herkimer (Sept. 23 on the Magicians’ home field) follow.

The Jugglers hope to build on success at the Class C level, but their long-term goal is return to the glory days when they were the class of the Mohawk Valley and among the top programs in the state.

“I don’t see any reason why we can’t get back to where our football program used to be some years ago where the good kids in our area wanted to come to play football,” Abraham said. “That’s what we want. We want to make this the place to be to come and play football.”

Thus far, Abraham has been impressed with this team’s demeanor and its work ethic.

“[These kids] are the best I’ve ever seen,” the coach said. “I tell everybody I see.”

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