Guilderland a potential favorite in Class AA football

The Enterprise — Jordan J. Michael

Tough to take down: Senior Marcus Knodler fights through the tackling of his Guilderland teammates at football practice on Monday. Knodler is one of three confident senior running backs –– Micaiah Henningham and Joseph Cornell are the other two –– said Head Coach Dan Penna. The Dutchmen open the season at Ballston Spa on Sept. 6.

The Enterprise — Jordan J. Michael

In good hands: The Guilderland football team has some experienced skill players back for the 2013 season after suffering its second straight Class AA quarterfinal loss to Columbia last season. Here, quarterback Frank Gallo, right, hands the ball off to Micaiah Henningham at practice on Monday. Henningham burned everyone with his quickness.

The Enterprise — Jordan J. Michael

Sweet nothings: Two Dutchmen football players tangle during a blocking drill at practice on Monday. Guilderland is hoping to reach the Class AA playoffs for the third consecutive season.

The Enterprise — Jordan J. Michael

Camp competition: Guilderland football players are battling for a starting spot on the roster this week before the season kicks off at Ballston Spa on Sept. 6. Here, some players work through a blocking drill on Monday.

GUILDERLAND — What’s not to like about the Dutchmen football team?

— Two straight playoff appearances;

— A returning senior quarterback, Frank Gallo, who led Section 2 in passing yards last year, as a back-up;

— An impeccable display of teamwork and spirit;

— A very talented, versatile offensive weapon, senior Micaiah Henningham, who can line up anywhere in the formation, and then proceed to blow away his opponents with quickness; and

— Coaches that care so much about their players that they’ll go out of their way to find them a ride to practice.

“We have a lot of potential with the skill that we have,” said Julian Christiano at practice on Monday. “We have the potential to do great things.”

“The sky is the limit for this team,” added Gallo.

After two consecutive losses to Columbia in the Class AA quarterfinals, the consensus goal for Guilderland seems to be a deep playoff run. The Dutch lost some key elements on defense, but the offense, already one of Section 2’s best, should be improved.

“I think anyone on this team would be disappointed if we didn’t win a playoff game,” Christiano said. “We’re putting in enough work.”

Head Coach Dan Penna said that Guilderland will be competitive with the right attitude, chemistry, and work ethic. “Leadership is emerging, and the attitude is good,” he said. “When we start to be a cohesive whole with our execution and performance, we’ll be a superb football team.”

On Monday, the Dutch ran plays against a live defense. In a few instances, Henningham swept through the backfield to take a hand-off, and then exploded up the field without being touched.

“He’s going to be a fast, explosive threat for us,” Penna said of Henningham. “Also, as a receiver and a return man.”

Guilderland relied more on its passing game in the second half of the 2012 season, so the team is looking for more of a balance on offense. Seniors Marcus Knodler and Joseph Cornell will also help in the running game.

“The best way to win football games is with that solid balance,” said Penna. “Each year, we try to choose the plays that best highlight our strengths.”

This season, the Dutchmen appear to have talent all over the field.

“Our team is multi-dimensional,” said senior Zach Formica, who plays at wide receiver. “Compared to Shenendehowa, which just runs it down your throat all day, we can do a little bit of everything, and it keeps our opponents off balance.”

Knodler said that Guilderland is coming into the season with experience at the skill positions. “Now, we can work on more of that team chemistry and mesh and time everything how we want it,” he said. “Every day, everyone comes here to get better.”

During the scrimmage on Monday, Gallo had to bend down a few too many times for low snaps from the center lineman. Guilderland’s rock at the center position, Andrew Antoinette, graduated in June, so the team is looking for a replacement.

“The shotgun snap has to become a lay-up, something that happens smoothly every time,” Penna said. “I’m hopeful about the offensive line, and it’s about getting better and better.”

The Dutchmen are already without senior Leland Armstong, who suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament at football camp earlier this summer.

Gallo, who is known more as a pocket passer, has worked hard at becoming a running threat, Penna said. Gallo will need a strong offensive line if he wants to go mobile. On Monday, when passing plays broke down, Gallo did not hesitate to run.

“We have some plays designed for him, some options,” said Penna of Gallo. “Your quarterback has to be tough, accurate, smart, and be a leader. I think, if he runs, he’ll be tough.”

Penna said that Guilderland has the potential for a very successful season if the team maintains its work ethic and stays hungry, confident, and respectful of the fact that it faces great opponents. “We’re feeling optimistic,” he said, “but we need to be humbled sometimes, so we work harder to earn what we get.”

The Dutchmen begin the 2013 season on the road at Ballston Spa on Sept. 6, and then play Albany, Bethlehem, Shaker, Shenendehowa, Christian Brothers Academy, and Saratoga to finish out the schedule. Shaker is the defending Class AA champion, and Bethlehem has a great defense, Penna said.

“You’re talking about teams that are always well coached, so it’s going to be tough, exciting football,” he continued. “If we play our game, we’ll be in the thick of it.”

Knodler says that, no matter the opponent, Guilderland always prepares as if it has no name or face.

“We just go after them, whoever it is,” he said. “For us seniors, this is all we got, so we’re going to do the best that we can.”

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