Football has never been bigger at Shaker High School.
Following two consecutive trips to the Section 2 Class AA Super Bowl, the turnout for this year’s football tryouts was one of the largest in the program’s long history.
“We had 62 guys try out, which is really good for our program,” said Shaker coach Greg Sheeler.
Perceptions of Shaker from people outside of Latham have changed, as well. The Blue Bison are no longer considered a one-year wonder after they won the 2012 Sectional title and came within a play of beating Christian Brothers Academy in last year’s championship game.
“A couple of years ago, a lot of people thought Shaker was soft and an easy pushover,” said senior linebacker/running back Justin Canfield. “But coach Sheeler came in and made us work hard.”
“We just know we have a bigger target on our backs,” said Sheeler.
In order to get back to the Sectional final this year, Shaker must compensate for the graduation of several key players, including tailback Jake Quay, lineman Mike Mainella and receivers Michael Lewis and Lloyd Smalling.
“It’s the same thing as last year,” said Canfield. “Yeah, we lost a lot of people, but we have a lot of kids coming up.”
Two key offensive skill players are back for Shaker — quarterback Matt Woods and tailback Andrew Bolton. Woods is entering his first full season as the starting signal caller after he took over for Jason Natale last year.
“He’s a very good leader,” Sheeler said of Woods. “He works very hard, and the kids are willing to listen to him.”
A junior, Bolton is in his third year as a varsity player, and Sheeler said Bolton is ready to become the featured running back.
“I think he has very high expectations for himself, and more importantly he has high expectations for the team,” Sheeler said of Bolton.
Canfield is one of the few holdovers from a defensive corps that was among the stingiest in Class AA last season. Shaker posted five shutouts in 2013, including a 35-0 whitewashing of Saratoga in the Sectional semifinals.
“We may not be as big as we were last year, but we’re quicker and we’re smarter,” said Canfield.
“We have a lot of new faces, but we’ll have the same energy and the same intensity,” said Sheeler.
Shaker will be tested out of the gate when it travels to CBA Friday, Sept. 5, for a rematch of last year’s Super Bowl, which the Brothers won 12-7.
“We’re not looking at it as a revenge thing,” said Canfield. “The off-season after (the loss), once we heard about it, we were thinking ‘CBA, CBA.’ But once the (pre)season started, we got that out of our heads.”
Shaker’s first home game is Sept. 12 against Saratoga. Its first Liberty Division game is Sept. 19 at Schenectady.
Sept. 5 — at CBA, 7 p.m.
Sept. 12 — Saratoga, 7 p.m.
Sept. 19 — at Schenectady, 7 p.m.
Sept. 26 — at Columbia, 7 p.m.
Oct. 2 — LaSalle, 7 p.m.
Oct. 10 — at Bethlehem (Bob Ford Field), 7 p.m.
Oct. 17 — Colonie, 7 p.m.
Associate editor/sports editor