Anyone who has met Batavia coach Dennis Piron knows he's an optimist. But when he says he's as optimistic about this season as he could be, he's not just blowing smoke.
Seven returning starters on each side of the ball, including all-Upstate Eight River Division picks Micah Coffey, Anthony Scaccia, Anthony Thielk, Forrest Gilbertson and James Millette, give the Bulldogs a strong chance for a third straight unbeaten conference title and a solid playoff run.
Piron's preseason prospectus included this line: "The postseason goal of a trip to DeKalb (for a title game) is not an unrealistic one."
Another year of Coffey absorbing the intricate stylings of offensive coordinator and Hall of Fame former head coach Mike Gaspari will keep teams guessing. This group could produce more fireworks than last season when Coffey, an Ivy or Patriot league candidate, completed 60 percent of his passes for 1,732 yards, 18 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions.
Batavia graduated Class 7A all-state receiver Zach Strittmatter, who set a program record with 13 touchdown receptions. This year's receiving corps figures to be more diverse with, among others, Roarke Mullins, Michael Moffatt, Jordan Zwart, Tucker Knox, Alec Berry, tight end Noah Frazier, second-leading receiver Scaccia out of the backfield and the versatile, 220-pound Thielk, who has attracted much Mid-America Conference attention.
Last season Scaccia baffled foes with a skittering, stop-start style, sprinter's speed and amazing lateral movement, body control and balance. He amassed 12 touchdowns on 1,946 yards of total offense, 1,279 of them rushing. While everyone knows the 150-pound senior will carry a heavy load, he's as elusive as a greased pig. Kevin Green, who lost his junior season to a broken arm, will also take handoffs.
Defensive coordinator Matt Holm graduated the bulk of his top tacklers and a top speed-rusher in Marquise Jenkins but still returns a wealth of talent. Defensive end Millette finished second on last year's squad with 6 sacks, Gilbertson led the team with 3 interceptions and 6 breakups, defensive tackle Ryan Minniti was and will be a presence.
Batavia should have depth on the defensive line, returns Brandon Dean from injury to help in Moffatt in the secondary, and Thielk will roll downhill from middle linebacker; last season he made 42 tackles, 6 for loss, at outside linebacker. The three-year varsity player is set to have a devastating season and will attack foes from a variety of angles.
As with most teams the offensive line is still gelling, but Mitch Krusz, Connor McKeehan and Patrick Gamble all return starting experience.
"For the most part," Piron said, "I feel very good about every position we have on the football field."
The Week 1-2 nonconference punch of Glenbard North and Richards will give senior-dominated Batavia an early indication of where it stands.
"We are excited about our team, but because of our recent success we have a very challenging schedule," Piron said. "Those things don't always mesh real well so I would like to say, let's see how good we are at the end of the season. We have the potential to be among the best at Batavia."