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August 18, 2006

 

Ambitious Red Dragons open camp

Dragons

Bob Ellis/staff photographer
SUNY Cortland senior captain Rich Coyne wears a t-shirt with a message for teammates during opening day of practice Thursday afternoon. The Red Dragons open the season Sept. 9 at Morrisville.

By ALAN BUTLER
Sports Editor

The first practice of his final football season at SUNY Cortland had just concluded and defensive tackle Adam Haas had one thought in mind.
Where had all the time gone?
“It came quick,” said the senior first team All-American of the arrival of pre-season workouts on a sunny Thursday afternoon at the SUNY Cortland Stadium Complex.
“They tell you it goes by in a flash, four years ago when I was a freshman, but you don’t believe it. Now it’s here and you wonder where the last four years have gone,” said Haas.
Of course what makes this season even more special for Haas and his teammates are some grand expectations after a big bunch of Red Dragon starters return from a team that went 7-3 a year ago, shared first place in the New Jersey Athletic Conference standings and went to the NCAA Division III playoffs as a wild card entry.
“That’s a good thing,” said head coach Dan MacNeill of those lofty ambitions for a Red Dragon squad ranked 11th in one pre-season national poll and 24th in another.
“Our goals are always the same, have a winning season, win the NYAC and play for the NCAA title. And if you win the NJAC you have a chance to win a national title,” says MacNeill, who has gone 52-39 in his nine seasons coaching at his alma mater.
Haas is part of a seasoned, nationally-ranked defense preparing for a Sept. 9 season opening trip to Morrisville. Of the 53 tackles the 6-foot, 255-pounder made a year ago, 11 were quarterback sacks. That ornery defense has nine returning starters — including seniors like Haas, fellow linemen Michael Connolly and Rich Coyne, inside linebacker Matt Montpetit, outside linebacker Josh Jablonski and All-America safety Stef Sair.
The Cortland defense allowed only 44.1 yards rushing per game last year, second best in the country. The defense was ranked 11th overall and set a school record with 52 quarterback sacks.
And there’s always room for improvement, in Haas’ thinking. “You’ve got to get better. No one knows everything,” he reasons.
THE FIERY MONTPETIT has learned lessons from a year ago, and will serve as captain for the second straight season. Senior running back Matt Rickert is also a captain for a second straight season, with defensive end Coyne new to his captainship role.
“Just to have fun,” is among Montpetit’s goals for his final season as a Red Dragon leader. “I was thinking too much about being a captain last year. You want to go out and have fun, hit hard and go hard in practice every day.”
Montpetit, who also wondered where the summer went while working out and resting up on the sandy shores of his Westhampton Beach home on Long Island, feels the responsibility of setting an example for those new to the program.
“We’re going to show them how hard you have to work and what it takes to win and keep the tradition going,” says Montpetit, who was second on the team with 73 tackles in 2005. His 43 solo stops were a team high.
With only four starting spots to replace heading into the season — leading rusher Rickert (680 yards), junior quarterback Alex Smith (1,720 yards and 11 touchdowns) and senior wide receiver Anthony Morat (43 catches for 563 yards and six touchdowns) are among the veterans on offense — Coach MacNeill has fewer freshmen and transfers than in the past. That doesn’t mean there is a lack of competition for starting jobs, or any less of an emphasis of teaching fundamental football.
 “There are some pretty good tests going on out there, some pretty good athletes running around,” said MacNeill, pleased with the talent and spirit displayed on opening day. “But as you go on it starts to separate, and you see the guys who have been here for four years or three years.”
Most opening days are an enthusiastic endeavor, and Cortland’s three-hour session was no different. “There’s no question there’s a euphoria,” said MacNeill. “The euphoria will wear a little bit after a week or so, when their feet are tired.”
THE RED DRAGONS will begin wearing pads on Monday to workouts, and double sessions will begin next week capped by the annual Red-White scrimmage next Saturday.
Cortland will also be hosting Hobart College, the team that nosed out the Red Dragons 23-22 in the first round of the NCAA playoffs a year ago, for a scrimmage session on Saturday, Sept. 2.

 

 

Red-hot Howard’s division may soon be extinct

By TOM VARTANIAN
Jimmy Howard has been one of the hottest drivers on the local racing scene this summer, but it has also been a season with mixed blessings. Mr. Wide Open has posted nearly one dozen feature wins for car owners Kevin and Marie Dann and already claimed one track championship, but the future direction for the two-time champion is undecided for 2007.
To understand this, one has to realize that Howard competes in one of those divisions that has outgrown and undergone such a change that it has driven itself into extinction. The Pro Stock/Super Stock Division has gone largely unpoliced over the past few seasons and become more of a late model class from just a few years ago. Skyline Raceway (Blodgett Mills) dropped the division because of the low car counts and the higher purse this division needed to help cover the teams’ costs to build and maintain them. Thunder Mountain Speedway (Center Lisle) ran the division until Aug. 5 this season until the new owners realized that it was not financially viable to keep the division on its card either and Five Mile Point Speedway (Kirkwood) is also planning on eliminating the division.
That basically leaves the DIRT tracks like Fulton Speedway or a longer haul to Penn Can Speedway (Susquehanna, Pa.), one of the few places still running the Late Models, as options.
Howard has made the most of his opportunities this season. With seven wins at Thunder Mountain Speedway, including the double feature night August 5, Howard claimed the Street Stock track championship, the second championship of his career.
“It can right down to the final night and we pulled it out,” said Howard, who was also the 1999 Pure Stock champion at Skyline Raceway. “It feels really good. It would have been better if the car count was higher, but the level of competition was very tough with the drivers that were at Thunder Mountain. It was really nice to give Kevin and Marie their second championship as car owners.”
As for the division being dropped, Howard offered these thoughts.
“With four races left, I hoped Dick (Stark) would have kept us,” Howard said. “It is most-likely true, but I find it hard to believe that the track would lose money on our division if you included the fans that come with us. I would have raced if the purse had to be cut a little.
“I want everyone to know that Dick is a really good guy. He had to make a tough decision and it was a decision that they needed to make. He was a very good driver and comes from a racing background so things are going to be good there.”
Howard has five win on the Trackside Products Pro/Super Stock Series, including back-to-back wins at The New Afton Speedway last Friday and again Tuesday night. Unfortunately, two poor finishes at Five Mile Point have the Cortland driver trailing his main rival, Denny Decker, by 11 points. With just two points between each finishing position and just two races remaining, it will be tough for Howard to overtake Decker, unless the point leader has two bad nights.