Depth will help Batavia reload
Losing a pair of talented all-area players to graduation like quarterback Kyle Niemiec and wide receiver Canaan Coffey would take a toll on any high school football team, but Batavia is better positioned to absorb such losses than most programs in the Upstate Eight Conference.
Though coach Dennis Piron must replace up to seven starters on either side of the ball, program depth has allowed him to do so before. Last year he replaced six players on offense only to win a fifth-straight Upstate Eight River title and advance to a Class 7A quarterfinal.
Healthy internal competition among 65 varsity players, 60-plus sophomores and approximately 40 freshmen helps. Can it help the Bulldogs reload and make it a UEC River sixpeat?
"I feel this group of boys has worked as hard as everybody else has worked," Piron said. "In some areas we're stronger than others. Our offensive line is strong to start the year and we have a lot more depth at the running back position from top to bottom. Last year we really relied on (1,000-yard rusher Zach) Garrett. This year we have four or five guys who can go the distance. Whereas last year we relied on Coffey at receiver, this year we feel we'll be balanced there.
"If we get good, solid play from our quarterback, and I believe we will, yes, we will be a very, very good football team. If someone beats us, they will be a very special team."
Piron had not named Niemiec's replacement through the second week of camp. Competing for the starting nod are senior Ben Weerts (6-2, 193) and junior Riley Cooper (5-11, 165).
Whoever starts at quarterback will be the beneficiary of the biggest offensive line in Batavia history, according to Piron. The line returns three starters in seniors Ross Berggren (6-2, 295), Evan Day (6-6, 295) and Jackson Lambert (6-2, 250).
The other vacancies will be filled by a rotation of seniors Colin Holden (6-2, 285) and Jackson Darby (5-11, 240) and juniors Nolan Eike (6-6, 260) and Chris Monroe (6-3, 245).
Fullback Dana Anderson started every game last year. He will block for a stable of running backs that includes juniors Reggie Phillips and Jeremiah Evers and seniors Matt Huizinga and Elijah Green.
The Bulldogs must find a replacement for all-UEC River tight end Glenn Albanese. The 6-foot-7 senior will bypass his final year of football eligibility to concentrate on baseball, Piron said. The left-hander is committed to pitch collegiately at Louisville and is a potential MLB draft pick next June. He will be replaced by senior Jake Robinson, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound senior.
The defense has holes to plug but should benefit from at least one key returnee at each level: end Kyle Stejskal (5-11, 195), mike linebacker Johnny Walsh (6-0, 195), cornerback Jay Hunt (6-2, 170) and safety Connor Oroni (5-11, 185), all seniors
"We've had a good group of 17-18 kids working in on defense throughout camp and the defense had a great off-season," Piron said. "Guys are competing for spots. I like the speed level and I really like the work ethic."