The Hudson Valley Buccaneers kick off their third season of semi-pro football a wek from this Saturday, July 8 at 6 p.m. at Dietz Stadium in Kingston. The Buccaneers are fresh off their first-ever playoff berth last season in the World Football Federation (WFF), where they advanced by beating the South Jersey Bengals 7-0 last September before being crushed by the Albany Metro Mallers 42-0 a week later.
Hudson Valley fell to Albany three times last season by a combined score of 122-0. In fairness, the Mallers did that to pretty much every single team they played last season until they fell 42-35 to the Capital City Seahawks, a Washington D.C.-area team.
While there’s no reason to believe Albany will be any worse than they were a season ago, there’s every reason to believe the Buccaneers will be better, much better.
“On the football end of it, I’m obviously a little bit biased, but the talent we have on the team is incredible,” said Michael Liverani, a local product who played his high-school ball at Onteora in Boiceville (the school no longer has a football team). He’s a double threat, serving his second year as a right guard on the Buccaneers and his first as the team’s public-relations manager.
Among the team’s myriad local sponsors is MAC Fitness, which gave the Buccaneers a chance to begin training in January in the gym’s indoor facilities, when in the past they’d to wait until April.
Hudson Valley has worked hard to bring in quality players on both sides of the ball to help augment its team. “There’s a lot of buzz, and we’ve recruited some really high-level athletes,” Liverani said. “I think we have a great shot to win our league championship.”
His confidence is more than boasting, he hopes. In a pre-season game, the Buccaneers obliterated the New York Legion, 56-0 at Dietz Stadium on June 4. The Legion are in the Five-Star Football League, a separate semi-pro league not affiliated with the World Football Federation.
The Buccaneers amassed 398 rushing yards on 52 attempts, and on the defensive end allowed the Legion to cross the 50-yard line only twice. “Obviously, that shows a little bit of the potential of the team,” Liverani said. “They weren’t a championship caliber team, but they’re a legitimate semi-pro team.”
On the doorstep of their third season, the Buccaneers are still getting the word out about the team in the local community. Semi-pro football teams in the area have had difficulties in the past. The last team to do what the Buccaneers are doing, the Hudson Valley Highlanders/Tri-County Tigers, ceased operations in 2009. And the Hudson Valley Saints, which operated from 2005-07, saw its former owner Mark English sent to prison in November 2013 for defrauding his investors.
But these are today’s Buccaneers, founded in 2015 by the team’s owner and wide receiver Lennard Byrd, a local football legend who saw an opportunity to join a fledgling league and bring football back to Dietz Stadium, where he played high school ball for the KingstonTigers. Byrd and fellow KHS alum James Hines make up part of an impressive receivers’ corps Liverani said will work in tandem with the team’s explosive running game. We’re definitely a ground-and-pound-type team,” he said. “But we have so much talent at wide receiver.”
Other former Kingston High players include center Dave Baloy, defensive end Alton Mitchell, and James Jones, who moves to tight end this season after playing quarterback in 2016. “The majority of the team is from Kingston and the surrounding areas,” said Liverani. “We’ve got a pretty large influx of players who’ve come over from Dutchess [County] as well. We’ve got one guy who travels from New Hampshire, one from Peekskill, Monticello. But the core of our unit is mid-Hudson Valley.”
Adam Ramirez is back for this third season as Hudson Valley’s head coach, with assistants Dave Alterio and Darrial Kohout also returning. The coaches will join Byrd and Liverani on a board designed to streamline the team’s operations and allow it to focus not only on football success, but also community outreach.
“We’re creating something kids in the community and football fans in general will find fun to attend,” said Liverani.
Before opening day, Hudson Valley faces one more preseason test, this time on the road against the Glens Falls Greenjackets, a team they’ll face in the eight-game regular season in late July. Liverani cited battles against the Syracuse Strong and the Albany Metro Mallers as the most crucial. Though the Strong are new to the WFF, they’re an established organization who left the failing Empire Football League heading into this season.
After opening with a visit from Syracuse, the Buccaneers have their toughest fights stacked up at the end of the season, with a visit to Albany on August 26, a trip to Syracuse on September 9, and a visit from Albany on September 16.
Said Liverani. “Last year, Albany blew us out. Not going to lie, we’ve circled those games on our calendar. Our season is going to be in those three games, and I know we have the firepower to take them on.”
The Hudson Valley Buccaneers will host Syracuse on July 8, Chittenango on July 22, Philadelphia on August 19, and Albany on September 16. All home games begin at 6 p.m., with tickets priced at $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and military personnel, with children twelve and under admitted free.
For more information, visit www.hvbucs.com.