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August 16, 2013

 

Red Dragons look to uphold family tradition

FootballJoe McIntyre/staff photographer
SUNY Cortland linemen collide during blocking drills Thurday on the first day of football practice.

By ALAN BUTLER
Sports Editor

In his first official football duties as the new offensive line coach at SUNY Cortland, Billy Castro tried to impress upon his players the importance of “brotherhood and watching out for each other” at a morning meeting.
So when Castro arrived at lunch later on Thursday, he was delighted to see those same linemen — and not a senior in the bunch — all dining at the same table prior to the start of pre-season workouts on campus.
“The message got to them just like that, a great start,” summed up Castro.
A former two-time All-American offensive tackle with the Red Dragons who last played in 2011, Castro is just one of several former Cortland players on head coach Dan MacNeill’s staff as the defending New Jersey Athletic Conference champions worked out the kinks on a sunny opening day.
MacNeill is beginning his 17th season at the helm at his alma mater, while Castro is joining recent Red Dragon standouts such as Bryan Wiley (defensive line), Ben Nagle (linebackers) and last year’s starting offensive tackle Mike Wutzer (defensive line assistant) on this year’s coaching crew.
They hope to continue the recent tradition of gridiron excellence at Cortland, including a year ago when the Red Dragons were unbeaten NJAC regular season champions, beat rival Ithaca College 16-10 with a late goal-line stand in the annual Cortaca Jug and then went two rounds into the NCAA Division III playoffs before a 9-2 campaign came to a conclusion two days after Thanksgiving.
“It’s great. It really feels good,” said MacNeill of having former players stay in the program to become coaches.
“You really have no problem handing responsibility to someone that you know. And there’s a comfort zone in a coach saying, ‘These are my guys and they know exactly what my expectations are and how to run things,’” he added. “So you don’t have to teach a coach the value system of who we are or worry about how they’re going to treat other people. I like that.”
CASTRO’S INCREASED role in his second season on the coaching staff will be trying, considering center Anthony Pedrotti, guard Randy Bloom and tackles Shawn Stevenson and Wutzer all graduated off an offense that averaged 33 points and 396.7 total yards per game.
“It’s definitely a challenge I accept as the first-year O-line coach. It makes you a little nervous, but I’m confident in my coaching and I’m confident in the ability that these guys have,” said Castro.
Sophomore guard Vin Juliano should return to the starting lineup, and underclassmen like juniors Dick Fernandez, Mason Thorbjornsen and Greg Kolodinsky did get some experience filling in for injured starters last autumn.
“They played in plenty of games and I’m confident with what they can do,” said Coach Castro. “I’m confident that those guys are committed to getting better rather than being content with what they had last year. It’s a good group.”
Cortland will also have to replace graduated quarterback Chris Rose who passed for 2,364 yards, while junior running back Bronson Green moved south and will not be back after scoring eight touchdowns in 2012.
There are 15 starters to be replaced, which could be one reason why the Red Dragons were ranked second in the NJAC pre-season poll behind the Rowan Profs.
Tailback Justin Autera and defensive lineman Joe Kirchner are the senior team captains for a squad that will hold its annual Red-White scrimmage on Sunday, Aug. 25; will face Rochester in a pre-season scrum on Saturday, Aug. 31; and will open the season hosting Buffalo State on Saturday, Sept. 7 — all at the Stadium Complex.
But the coaching staff has other familiar faces besides the four former Red Dragons, as Larry Czarnecki (tight ends), Ola Adams (defensive coordinator), Greg Roskos (offensive coordinator) and Cortland High graduate Tom Murphy (running backs) have been recent fixtures.
“NO QUESTION, STAFF continuity is key,” said Coach MacNeill, as his coaches will be put to the test with an influx of newcomers.
“It’s just the first day and this is really a large in-coming class,” said MacNeill, who told his troops the pace of practice will be picking up. “You see the (team) leaders, the half the players lead them and get ‘em going, but the new kids are like ‘I don’t know where the heck I’m suppose to be.’ So there’s an ebb and flow to it, and that will come as soon as the kids start to learn the process.”
That’s where coaching comes in, and there’s no place someone like Castro rather be than training camp. When he’s back home in his Orange County home of Washingtonville seeing friends who are teachers and bankers and in the business world, he comes to the realization that “I’m working in the best business in America, I think.”
That’s another reason to be at Cortland. Or as Castro says, “I think it’s a great place to start your career.
“This is what I want to do with my life, and this is definitely a great place. Coach Mac is one of the best coaches to learn from. I’ve learned so much just being in these staff meetings with him as far as taking his philosophies and just running with them,” added Castro.
“I don’t know who else I can learn from better, especially having Roskos as an offensive coordinator. There are things I can take from every coach here. Coach Adams, Coach Roskos, their work ethic and their work grind. Coach Mac, the way he perceives everything, sees everything that affects his program. It’s just a great place to learn.”

 

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