The Saugerties High varsity football team is in another transition year, one which has seemingly repeated itself every few seasons. Like all high school teams, the Sawyers are given the task of replacing key graduates from a prior year’s season. Saugerties also has a new head coach in Lee Meisinger.
Meisinger isn’t actually new to the program at all, serving for four seasons under previous coach Mike Melville as offensive coordinator. Together, the coaching staff under Melville has been credited with bringing the program back into a realm of respectability. It ended with a less than satisfying 2010 campaign, one which saw the Sawyers finish 2-7 overall. Their 2-3 league record was good enough to earn them a bid in the Section 9, Class A postseason where they succumbed to a Wallkill club on its way to winning the Sectional title.
The first game of this season is hopefully not a sign of things to come for the Sawyers, who fell 34-0 on the road against Roosevelt on Friday, September 2. Whatever the team learned from the loss is unknown; despite the squad’s relative youth, they still feel ready to take on the league.
“We’ve got a bunch of new guys,” said Meisinger. “Even though these guys are young they like playing football.”
Nick Koenig, a running back and cornerback, has a year of varsity under his belt. The quick-footed 16-year-old junior is expected to make a serious impact on both sides of the ball this season. He said he likes what he’s seen so far, both in his new coach and his teammates.
“So far playing for Coach Meisinger has been fun, it’s a new atmosphere,” Koenig said. “The team is young and very excited to win.”
‘I guess our main rivals would be every team we play. And that’s how it should be.’
Justin Whittaker, an 18-year-old senior quarterback and veteran of two varsity campaigns coming into the season, said it was taking some time getting used to how much has changed.
“It’s different not seeing Melville around every day because he got the program back on its feet,” he said. “But Coach Meisinger has stepped in and is doing a great job relating to the players.”
Like Koenig, Whittaker said he’s impressed by what the younger players on the team bring to the mix.
“Well, we are a very young team,” he said. “We had a lot of athletic underclassmen that stepped in to do a very good job.”
Koenig added that he understands that the team won’t succeed based on one player or group of players, but rather with everyone making contributions.
“We’ve pulled up a couple kids from JV and put a lot of pressure on them to succeed,” he said. “But all around, coach just told us everybody has to step up and make plays.”
That didn’t exactly happen in the opening game against Roosevelt, but the Sawyers have eight more opportunities in the regular season to make good on the promise of their talent. And, as was proven last year, it’s possible to get into the playoffs even if the wins are few and far between leading up to that point. The thing is, these Sawyers want to win. They want to win now and they want to keep on winning. Which is why the opening loss – for all its harsh, humbling lessons – is something the team believes it can look back on at the end of the season as a blip on the radar.
“I think if we start playing as a team and clicking on all cylinders we could win the section and maybe more,” said Koenig.
“If we play football like everyone knows how to we should be able to contend in the playoffs,” he said.
The Sawyers hopes of quickly turning the tides will come rather quickly. Whittaker listed three teams he considers tough rivals, and the first – Port Jervis – will host Saugerties on Friday, September 9. The other two – Wallkill and Cornwall – come in October, a point at which the Sawyers’ best case scenario will see them at 4-1 heading into those games. Both of those games are at home for Saugerties, which plays its first game on its own field against Goshen on Saturday, September 17.
Koenig said he wasn’t sure any one team is a rival for the Sawyers, instead opting to go with an “us-against-the-world” approach.
“I guess our main rivals would be every team we play,” he said. “And that’s how it should be.”
Key losses for the Sawyers from last year’s squad include wide receiver and linebacker Mike Dodig, wide receiver and defensive back Jon Hindes, quarterback Pat Maloney, running back and linebacker Nick Gruccio and running back and linebacker Pat Mullen.
In addition to Koenig and Whittaker, the Sawyers return a number of other key players, including offensive and defensive lineman Ethan Stanley, defensive end Jake Vickery, offensive lineman Eric Beresheun and offensive and defensive lineman Terrell Lawrence.
Quarterbacks Russell Neglia and Paton Gibbs are among the team’s new additions, as are wide receivers J.T. Elmendorf, Scott Melville, Josh Gibbs and Lukas Gran, as well as linebackers Anthony Spadaro and Tyler Tosado.