Coach: Ron Stover
In 2011: 12-1 (NYS Class D Runner up)
One name was associated with Chester the last two seasons — Saxon Smith. The small but elusive running back ran for an astounding 3,057 yards and scored 49 touchdowns in 2011. Smith, who was named the MSG Varsity Section 9 player of the year, has since graduated and gone on to play at Dean Junior College.
There is no way that Chester can replace him with just one player, but the most likely candidate is Lawrence Young, a junior with a similar build to Smith.
"It's a big role but I think I am handing it very well," Young said. "My teammates are trying to take the pressure off that role for me. (Saxon) taught me how to cut more and made me more determined to be just like him."
Not just Saxon Smith is gone from a team that went all the way to Carrier Dome last season. Also gone is key lineman — and coach's son — Shawn Stover and quarterback Anthony Ognibene among many other key players.
But just because the names are mostly new, don't count out Chester. The guys who will be playing this season learned a lot from 2011 and hope to carry Chester to a third straight Section 9 title.
"The run was incredible, it just shows you that as a team anything is possible," senior linebacker Matt Perry said.
Senior tight end/defensive end Justin Delgado comes back even more motivated.
"As soon as the (championship) game ended, I was in the gym looking to get bigger and come back stronger for this season," he said.
They are the smallest team in Section 9, and they love it. Chester embraces the role of being the underdog.
"It's good to be the underdog," Delgado said. "People doubt you and then it gives you motivation to show them all up and say that we do have talent."
Chester proved that on Thursday at Valley Central in team scrimmages. Matched up against Wallkill, they played the Class A school even, led by big catches from Delgado and even bigger hits from Perry.
"Most teams probably underestimate us because of our size and our class," Young said. "We are the smallest team in Section 9, so we are just trying to make a big name for ourselves."
in 2011, Chester was the first team from Class C or D from Section 9 to reach the state title game. The Hambletonians are just the eighth Section 9 team to make the trip – out of 93 all-time champions. Monroe-Woodbury did it four times and Cornwall, Wallkill and Rondout Valley each did it once.
That doesn't mean they don't think they can do it again...or that other Section 9 teams can't do it. Summer camps such as Camp of Champions at Valley Central have increased the amount of time and energy teams in the Hudson Valley are spending on football during the summer.
"(Camp) helps a lot, a bunch of our young guys don't know much about football coming into camp, but by the end they get the basics and can build from there," Perry said.
Coach: Brian Vegliando
In 2011: 8-2 (lost to Cornwall in the Class A title game)
The first and almost only thing on the mind of Wallkill is getting back at Cornwall. After finally breaking through to win a sectional title in 2010, Wallkill was denied a repeat with a 28-14 loss to Cornwall in the Section 9 Class A finals.
It was a reversal of fortunes for Wallkill. Cornwall had won five straight titles before losing three straight contests to Wallkill in the 2010 and 2011 seasons. But the Dragons opened up a 28-0 lead on Wallkill in the championship game and even Eric Wellmon couldn't lead back the Panthers.
"(Playing them) is something different," senior free safety Isaiah Berrios said. "It's like no other team we play, on a whole other level. The week leading up to it is so intense. When we get to that field it's a whole other thing."
"We learned that we have to constantly push, keep the tempo up, never slow down," added senior lineman Andrew Connors.
Two key offensive players gone from last year are quarterback Eric Wellmon and running back Steven Moyer.
Moyer seems slightly easier to replace as Josh Villafane will officially step in as the starting running back. Villafane led the Panthers in rushing last year with 1,096 yards and nine touchdowns. His season was highlighted by a 200-plus yard rushing performance in regular season vs. Cornwall in the rain.
Wellmon will be trickier to replace. Kevin Presutti and Joe Pillitteri will fight for the chance to be the starting quarterback in 2012.
"Both of them look really good," Berrios said. "Pillitteri has a strong arm and Presutti is really accurate."
"They both throw a great ball," Connors said. "One stays in the pocket a little more than the other."
While some of the backfield is gone, most of the offensive line is back for 2012.
Led by Connors, the Panthers bring back four of their five starters from last year and they figure to be the key to the season.
"It puts a lot of pressure on our shoulders," Connors said. "Our entire line but our right tackle is back. It's all on us."
"Our line is great," Villafane said. "Andrew Connors is my pulling guard on a wrap. I just follow him and we will score some touchdowns."
Connors is the biggest name of the bunch. He has already visited several college camps this summer and has a visit with Fordham later this week. He also plans on visiting Marist and Bucknell.
At Camp of Champions, the Panthers got a look at their Week 1 opponent in Marlboro. The Dukes had a historic season in Class B and will definitely contend again in 2012.
"All I see is our Week 1 game against Marlboro and we plan on being 1-0." Connors said.
Week 1 was a stumbling block for Wallkill in 2011. After a one-day delay from hurricane damage, the Panthers were upset by Washingtonville, 28-15. If the Panthers want to prove they can challenge Cornwall again in 2012, they will need to have a big opening statement in Week 1 against Marlboro.
Head coach: Rich Ward
In 2011: 9-2 (won first Section 9 Class B title in school history; lost to Croton-Hamon in the NYS regional finals)
* First down *
After a historic 2011 season that saw Marlboro win its first-ever Section 9 Class B title, the Iron Dukes have their eyes set on repeating.
"I'm looking forward to it," junior quarterback Ryan Cary said. "It's a change (coming in as defending champs), but we are going to have to work hard and do better than last year."
* Second down *
Just how good was former Marlboro quarterback Mike Schoonmaker? Well, the Iron Dukes are using two players to replace him. Cary and Justin Votta are slated to take turns under center.
"It will be hard to replace (Schoonmaker), but we are going to do whatever we can to work hard and become section champs again," Cary said.
In terms of their individual styles, Cary said he's more of a runner while Votta's a passer. Together, they hope to form the perfect quarterback.
"We are going to try and work together to win as many games as possible," said Cary, who will also play some running back and wide receiver.
* Third down *
The return of Austin Beck figures to be a major boost to Marlboro's backfield. Beck, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, is ready and raring to go.
"I didn't get to play last year, so I have to make up for two seasons," he said. "I'm very excited. We play a lot of good opponents. I'm going to make a lot happen."
In addition to Beck, another back to watch is Devin Pierre. He had a stellar 2011 campaign, carrying the ball 111 times for 654 yards and five touchdowns.
* Fourth down *
Senior linebacker Matt Tamburri — arguably the team's most dynamic player — was absent from the camp. He was attending Boys State, which is a leadership conference organized by the American Legion. Tamburri hopes to attend West Point next year.
Follow Chris Caron on Twitter @ChrisCaronMSGV | Follow Isaac Cass on Twitter @MSGV_Icass