NORWICH – The names and the faces change, but the goals never do for the Norwich football team.
In his two years at the helm as head coach, John Martinson has guided the Purple Tornado to a pair of playoff appearances. In 2009 he won a division title, and last year, a runner-up divisional finish was good enough to earn a wild-card bid. Through two campaigns, Martinson sports an even .500 record (9-9), but he is less concerned with overall wins and losses versus the wins and losses against divisional opponents. In Martinson’s tenure, Norwich is an impressive 7-1 against division rivals, and that kind of success will always help a team reach its goals.
“We’d love to win every game we play, but our goal is one step at a time, and our focus is always on winning the division,” Martinson said.
Martinson cringes at the term “rebuilding,” but when you lose 20 seniors to graduation and return just two offensive starters, there is indeed a lot of new faces taking on key roles in an offensive system that relies heavily on intelligent linemen making the right line calls, excellent timing, and well-executed faking from all of the skill position players.
Fortunately, Martinson has added a wealth of experience to his coaching corps. Former varsity head coaches, Art Rigas and Mike Chrystie, have joined the Tornado staff. Too, former Norwich player Zach Stratton is assisting veteran line coach Tom Stoddard.
Rigas has served as a head coach at Oneonta and Unatego, winning a sectional championship for the latter team. He also coached and played for Walton, so he is well acquainted with the Norwich system. In Chrystie, Martinson has a four-year varsity head coach who, as an athlete, is Chenango County’s all-time leading rusher, passer, and scorer.
Rigas will run the Norwich defense and assist with coaching the linemen, while Chrystie will focus on special teams and backs. “It’s been difficult for me to give up the defense,” Martinson said, who was the defensive coordinator for Norwich for two decades under longtime head coach John Pluta. “I’m very pleased with the job Art is doing, and I tried to balance coaching the offense and defense the past two years. This (change) will give me more time to focus on the offense and do more of the other coaching responsibilities. I’m comfortable with the job Art is doing, and having two former head coaches on staff is really nice.”
We alluded to Norwich’s two returning starters. One is third-year starting quarterback Seth Thomsen, and the other is all-county lineman, Levi Lorimer. Lorimer is easily the largest lineman on the Norwich team, and probably the largest in all of the area. Martinson will lean heavily on Thomsen’s experience and play-making ability in integrating so many new faces to the starting lineup.
Thomsen’s potential running mates this season, Mackay Hotaling and Nate Ashton, are not with the team this year. Hotaling and his family moved to Florida, while Ashton opted to participate in cross country. “You can’t coach the guys that are not here, and you can’t worry about what you don’t have,” Martinson said. “This is a chance for other guys to step up.”
With no returning starters and just Patrick Taylor – a part-time offensive player last year – having any experience carrying the ball, the first scrimmage and first game will be the first opportunities for incoming backs Kyle Edwards, Jaden MacRabie, and Danny Carson to carry the ball. Grant Brightman, a starter last year on defense and an all-county and all-division player, will likely start at fullback, the key running back position for Norwich.
As it looks right now, Edwards or MacRabie will start at one running back position along side Brightman, and Taylor will move into the slotback position. Depth will be provided by Kegan Levesque at fullback, Michael Sutton at quarterback, and perhaps Jeremy Hamilton at one of the running back spots.
Joining Lorimer on the line are Ryan Hayes, a sophomore center, Cody Barnes, a sophmore guard; Darrel Humphrey or Levi Levesque at guard, with Tyler Tehan, Matt Wolpa, and Chandler Rivenburgh competiting for a tackle spot. At right end as the primary receiver is senior Ian Weaver. Martinson added that Hamilton may work into the offensive line mix as well as the skill positions.
Norwich starts its season on the road at Susquehanna Valley Saturday, then returns for its home opener the ensuing weekend against Owego in a rematch of last year’s first-round playoff game. Two tough non-league games against Sidney and Chenango Forks ensue before Norwich heads full throttle into the rest of its division schedule.
Well over half of the starting spots will be filled by players new to the varsity level, and Martinson is keeping six sophomores on his roster. Norwich is indeed short on varsity experience, but it is, as always, long on tradition.
“I’m a big believer in coaching the kids that you have in any given year,” Martinson said. “We will be young in positions, and we’ll have to see how those kids react to the speed and intensity of the game at this level. We had a great turnout in the weight room during the offseason, and I think we will be strong up front. The kids need to gain confidence, and the more confidence we have, we’ll be able run different plays and give other teams different looks. It will take some time to see how things play out.”
BAINBRIDGE – The Class D teams in Section IV will have a better chance at making the playoffs this year. Actually winning enough games to qualify for the playoffs is not an easy task at all.
The number of Class D teams grew to 16 in the offseason, and a third division was added along with four more playoff teams than past years. In all, the three division champions will earn automatic playoff bids, and five other clubs will qualify based on their regular season victories and points accumulated for those wins. The points system is somewhat confusing, but Bainbridge-Guilford coach, Tim Mattingly, knows that if his team wins the games on its schedule, the “points” will take care of themselves.
“I don know that if you have two losses, it’s not the end of the world and you can still make the playoffs,” Mattingly said “I’m not sure what I think about (the new playoff system). We’ll see how it goes.”
If any team suffered more hard-luck losses that Mattingly’s Bobcats last season, please let the B-G mentor know. Realistically, the Bobcats were a play or two away from a 7-1 or 8-0 record.
* Walton beat B-G in week two with the winning score coming in the final 15 seconds.
* Two weeks later, Seton Catholic Central drove and scored the winning touchdown with 36 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
* Lastly, in week seven, a missed field goal in the final seconds went wide as Delhi preserved a two-point win over B-G.
“Those losses were all tough for us, and they were great games,” Mattingly said. “We felt we were right there all year, and right in the thick of things.”
The key to B-G’s attack all season was a formidable one-two punch at running back. As a senior last year, Dakota Vandermark set a new single-season school record for yards in a season finishing with 1,339. Vandermark’s running mate, Billy Holden, softened up defenses on the inside with his power running. Holden had 599 yards and 10 rushing scores for the season. Holden, a 6-foot-2, 225-pounder with excellent speed, figures to get the lion’s share of the carries in his senior season. “I think he will be the guy for us, and he came into the season in really good shape,” Mattingly said. “We’re counting on him, and he needs to be the workhorse on offense and defense. He led our team in tackles last year, so we expect a lot out of Billy.”