ITHACA, NY -- The week did not unfold as Ithaca High football coach Clarence Welch III would have scripted it. His Little Red team was about to play its first game on its brand new field — with its shiny new press box and sparkling new turf — and, in the coach's words, “Let's just say that we didn't have the best practices early in the week, and some of the kids were making some bad decisions.” Welch added, “I sat them down as a team, I told them they had to check their feelings at the door, deal with this as a team and they responded well.” By the time Friday rolled around, “The weather was perfect, the players looked great in their game-day shirts and ties, the teachers and school staff were all fired up and everything came together, starting with the opening kickoff.”
The result of everything coming together was a dominant 51-14 win over Southern Tier Athletic Conference rival Johnson City, the Little Red's first win of the season. The team had shown some real moments of promise in its first two games, but going up against schools with much larger rosters presents challenges on a few levels. To get some insight, I connected with senior tri-captain Chase Sposito (Jack Yaggie and Micah Fioriello are the other two captains), who put up some big numbers, running for one touchdown and passing for five more.
I asked Chase how many players are on the roster at this point, and he said, “Right now, there are about 25 on the active roster.”
That, I pointed out, is at least 10 or 20 fewer than is ideal, and I asked Sposito if that means that many of the players — including him — are playing both ways. While the QB replied in the affirmative, he was quick to add, “I always remember — and appreciate — that the four linemen are also playing both ways, and they're getting banged up a lot more, pushing guys around every play. They're doing the real work while I'm running around at linebacker, not getting touched on a lot of plays.”
I also asked Chase about the challenges he faces given the fact that in an ideal world, a quarterback comes off the field after an offensive series, takes a breather while consulting with his offensive coordinator (O.C.) about the unfolding game plan, and goes back out refreshed and ready. In Sposito's words, “The biggest thing for me is to keep a clear mind and not overthink it. On Friday, John Nicholas, our O.C., picked up some tendencies the opponent's defense was showing, and we adjusted accordingly. Much credit to him. Also, the blocking was great, and on a lot of the plays I felt no pressure, and I was able to spread it around to several receivers.” (Aiden Cornell and Fiorello each had two touchdown grabs.) The result was a lit-up scoreboard, and the home team's first win of the season.
I brought up another challenge I thought might present itself given the perpetually low roster numbers. How challenging is it, I asked, to be a captain and a team leader and feel the need to prop up teammates when the going gets tough while you are playing against teams that are able to send in the proverbial fresh horses while your guys are running out of gas late in the game?
For Chase, it is a matter of perspective, as he said, “I tell them that some schools have 50 or 60 guys on the roster, and many of them are going to practice and putting in the work and never seeing a snap. We're not going to magically see a 60-man roster, so we'll just play both sides of the ball and try to enjoy it.”
Welch addressed the low numbers, saying, “I tell the guys it's like a throwback to the days of 'Ironman' football. I have seen team photos, and there are only 13-15 guys in the picture!”
Chase Sposito will not soon forget Friday's big win.
“It was unbelievable,” he said. “The student section was packed, the new press box looked great, and we were playing in front of all our friends and family for the first time in two years!” He added, “The band sounded great... it was all the sights and sounds of what a high school football game should be.”
The Little Red will host Waverly this Friday at 7 p.m.