Voorheesville football thirsty for victory

The Enterprise — Jordan J. Michael

Hold tight: The Voorheesville football team is hoping to bounce back in 2013 after a few disappointing seasons. Here, a Blackbirds’ player runs with the football during practice last Friday. Voorheesville won two games last year.

The Enterprise — Jordan J. Michael

Quick escape: Junior running back Matt Feller evades a diving Voorheesville defender last Friday during the team’s practice. Feller, in his third year on varsity, is an experienced back, looking fast and tough on Friday. Head Coach Joe Sapienza considers Feller one of the best athletes for the Blackbirds, which open the 2013 season at Fonda on Sept. 7.

The Enterprise — Jordan J. Michael

Watch and learn: Voorheesville Head Coach Joe Sapienza, left, makes a demonstration for one of his football players during practice last Friday. The Birds return 17 players for 2013.

The Enterprise — Jordan J. Michael

The new quarterback for Voorheesville is junior Robert Denman, right, who throws a pass last Friday during practice. Denman started the last two games of 2012. 

VOORHEESVILLE — The last two seasons for Voorheesville football have been easy to forget.

After two downtrodden years, Voorheesville is excited to once again become a winning team. However, the current Birds’ players haven’t won much, so it won’t be easy.

“I do think we have to learn how to win again, you know?” Head Coach Joe Sapienza said last Friday as the high-noon sun beat down from the sky. “You have to learn how to win again. It’s a different mindset.”

Sapienza knew something was unique about the 2013 team when all 23 players showed up dressed and ready to go at 7:59 a.m. on Aug. 19. “It was like clockwork,” he said last Friday. “They knew the drill, and I feel so positive about this group of kids.”

The Blackbirds are three years removed from its last “great” season, Sapienza said. In 2010, Voorheesville played a televised Class C playoff game against Greenwich, losing after a touchdown play failed to connect on the final drive.

Since then, Voorheesville has found itself on the wrong end of some lopsided scores.

“I don’t like to compare teams from season to season, it’s not fair to the kids that aren’t here anymore, but we do have to learn how to win again,” Sapienza reiterated. “There’s a confidence you get from winning, and this team hasn’t really experienced that yet.”

Seniors Slater Nolan and Jared Paigo, and junior Matt Feller, all agreed that Voorheesville has brought more energy and intensity to the preseason this year. The Birds are working harder than before.

“It’s a different vibe,” said Nolan. “We know what we need to work on, and it’s those minute details. We need to tune it up.”

Feller said that the team needs to significantly cut down on the dropped passes, fumbled balls, and missed blocks from the recent past. “We just need to get everything perfected, no mistakes,” he said. “That’s just how it is supposed to be. We need to be prepared.”

Voorheesville has an optimistic attitude to go with its new thought process.

“A major goal for us is to not get down on each other when things don’t go our way,” Paigo said. “We did that a lot last year, and it caused problems.”

The Blackbirds were 2-7 in 2012, making the Class C playoffs because its division was missing a team (Cairo-Durham) and not very talented. Voorheesville ended up getting stomped by Hoosick Falls.

“We had high expectations, so it was disappointing for all of us,” Sapienza said of 2012. “There’s no other way to put it; we expect better. Two wins aren’t enough.”

No matter the structure of the team, Sapienza always feels like Voorheesville is good enough to make the playoffs. “It’s just how I think,” he said. “We always have a shot at winning against anyone. It’s a genuine feeling, and it’s important to feel that way.”

Where does that overall attitude of feeling like a winner come from?

“The coaching staff needs to have confidence in the players, and then the players need to start believing in themselves,” said Sapienza. “Then, you go out and do positive things.”

With a small roster of 23 players, Sapeinza is confident that each kid can give him something.

“Each player is going to see a pivotal situation,” he said. “That’s why small-school football is so unique — every player can be optimistic about getting on the field, having a shot, and it creates a better climate for the team.”

Balanced offense

The Blackbirds once again have a new starting quarterback under center. The last two quarterbacks (Mike Chiseri and Mike Young) were seniors when they took the job. Robert Denman, a junior, will have more time to develop in the position.

Denman started the last two games of 2012, and was very vocal last Friday, rushing his teammates into the huddle. He threw some deep passes, and also ran with the ball.

“Robert is a very good athlete,” Sapienza said. “He’s totally taken charge of the offense. He’s advanced enough where I can be out of the huddle and still know what he needs to tell the team.”

Taller than the previous two quarterbacks, Denman should have decent vision in the pocket.

Voorheesville will run its share of the option package, which has become a trend at all levels of football. The option offense is characterized by the predominance of option running plays, where the quarterback receives the ball and runs either right or left with a running back or fullback accompanying him. As the defense closes in, the quarterback can try for a lateral pass, throw downfield, or tuck and run.

There are many different plays in an option package, and it’s an effective way of using the game clock.

“People are faster and more athletic these days,” said Sapienza. “If our players want to play at the next level, I want them to have some stuff under their belts. In Robert’s case, he can run the whole package.”

In his third season with the varsity team, Feller will be the leader of Voorheesville’s rushing attack. Last Friday, Feller ran with toughness and speed. He was rarely touched before the whistle blew.

“He worked very, very hard to make himself better,” Sapienza said of Feller. “I consider him one of our best, and he’s been working on his ability to catch balls out of the backfield. He totally sets an example.”

Feller should be able to find holes to run through; Sapienza said that a “bad” running play for the Birds will be four yards. However, Voorheesville won’t be able to barrel over other teams due to the lack of size and experience on the offensive line; most of the starters graduated. 

“We’re experienced at the skill positions, but the line is going to need some work,” said Sapienza. “We have a few kids who played at different positions before, but now they’re learning the line. We’re sort of in the process of making an offensive line.”

The Blackbirds no longer have tall, burly linemen, so the offensive playbook will be different. “Last year, we wanted to pound with runs on the ground,” Sapienza said. “The playbook has to fit with the personnel that you have.”

Voorheesville has six wide receivers who, Sapienza says, are outstanding — Nolan, Paigo, Jeff Mauro, Sam Weiss, Mickey Knight, and Austin Zielinski. The team also has two tight ends, Alex Minnick and Michael McGinnis, who are capable of making plays.

“Every one of our receivers can run patterns and catch the ball,” said Sapienza. “That’s not traditional for small-school football.”

Nolan and Feller went to a football camp in Rhode Island earlier this summer, and both players won a Most Valuable Player award. The other Voorheesville players have fed off their energy this preseason.

“We want to be one big group that works hard together,” Feller said. “Nothing or no one is going to feel separated.”

“They’re upbeat and excited,” Sapienza said of his players. “Things are coming together pretty well.”

Voorheesville’s schedule is front-end loaded with away games at Fonda (Sept. 7, 1 p.m.), at Watervliet in Week 3, and at Chatham in Week 4. The Blackbirds host Cairo-Durham, which cancelled its 2012 season due to low numbers, on Sept. 14.

Sapienza didn’t know the current state of Cairo-Durham’s team, but he hopes it will be able to play in 2013. This week, a secretary at Cairo-Durham said that the football team plans to play an entire season schedule.

The Blackbirds were supposed to face Cairo-Durham to open the 2012 season, but the game was cancelled, and Sapienza didn’t have enough time to find another opponent. “So, that caused us to get off on the completely wrong foot,” he said. “It was deflating.”

Opening at Fonda this year, Voorheesville feels confident because it beat the Braves in a 7-versus-7 passing tournament earlier this summer. Fonda is one of the better Class C teams.

“The kids got together and said, ‘We got this,’ and then they put Fonda away,” Sapienza said. “If, in our first game, we come out and have a big play, we’re going to be a different team. We’ll see that we can play.”

Every Voorheesville player came to preseason camp in shape, Sapienza said. The team is excited.

“They think this year can be special,” he said.

Paigo said that Sapienza approached the players with a positive attitude.

“If we work hard,” Paigo said, “we can get better and win games.”

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