RANDOLPH — By no means did Brent Brown consider it a finished product in mid-August, but the Randolph/Frewsburg football team already undoubtedly stood much farther along than that time last summer.
Of course, at the time of Randolph’s 2017 Times Herald preview trip, Brown didn’t know he’d be welcoming Frewsburg’s players and coaches into an emergency merger after the Bears canceled their season due to low turnout. But following a 3-5 season for the hastily put-together squad, the merger plans became permanent and pushed the Cardinals up to Class C South after decades as a Class D power.
While the Cardinals gained some talented Frewsburg students last season, the late merger disrupted Brown’s coaching plans, with sets of players used to two different playbooks.
“We were behind, I think, all year long,” Brown said. “The stuff that we did, stuff that Frewsburg did, I don’t think we ever got good at it because it was tough: you’ve got to find out which kids are going to be playing and we got together, what, three days before the scrimmage? It was difficult. We were still making changes three weeks into the season. It was just a tough situation. This summer, we got to practice all summer, do 7-on-7 all summer and so we are light years ahead of where we were last year.”
But while it took a year to get the team’s organization down, Brown said he never had a camaraderie problem with players from different school districts coming together.
“Listen, they came together last year. Instantly,” Brown said. “They have been super. The kids have been awesome. Everything’s gotten ironed out a little bit better this year. So that first year, that situation was tough.”
The team also settled some logistical details of the merger. Frewsburg plays host to one home game this year, against Allegany-Limestone in Week 5. The team keeps Randolph’s Cardinals nickname and will wear red uniforms, but the helmets will display both ‘R’ and ‘F’ logos.
“We’ll still wear our (Randolph) stuff, we’ll still be the Cardinals, but it’ll be Randolph/Frewsburg Cardinals,” Brown said.
Familiarity with returning Frewsburg players helps Brown and his coaching staff, as well.
“You get now to this year and it’s not Randolph kids and Frewsburg kids,” said Brown, a sixth-year head coach who won state championships in his first two seasons. “You know them all. It’s just the team, it’s the kids, you know, so you’re not looking at him like, ‘Oh, what can this kid do?’ We already know. Everybody knows what everybody can do, so that makes things a lot easier as well.”
Senior Andrew Bernard, at 6-foot-3, 280 pound starter since his freshman year, returns as a first-team all-league (Section 6 Class D) lineman. He’s undoubtedly a leader for this squad.
“He’s got to be, Brown said. “He’s gotta be big for this year. Absolutely.”
Mason Pagett returns as a starting center.
“Our size is decent,” Brown said. “Our guards are little bit smaller, a little bit quicker, but we’ve got 280, 260, 250 at the other three (tackles and center), so we’ve got some size.”
Junior Tyler Hind, a 1,000-point scorer already on the basketball court, assumes the starting quarterback role from the graduated Trent Gray, while seniors Deter Miinte, Nick Marsh and Skylar Wright rotate in the backfield.
“Ty Hind, he’s been doing this since he was a little kid,” Brown said. “He knows what he’s doing, he knows the the whole system and right now we we’re rotating three backs.
“We’ve got a little bit of speed back there with all three of them. And we’ve got some that are stocky, some that are tall so it’s worked out.”
Teams couldn’t start full contact practice until Aug. 18 or scrimmage until a week later, but the Cardinals got some light contact from blocking (but no tackling) in against another squad on Friday, Aug. 17, with a joint practice at Jamestown.
“That’s become the thing, I think, up in Buffalo now,” Brown said of holding a joint practice for the first time. “We just had the heat clinic and (Section 6 football chairman) Ken Stoldt said, ‘You know, this is new, everybody is starting to do this now and we can joint practice, but we can only do it 10 on 10. We can’t do it 11 on 11. So we’ve got to take a wideout out or a corner out or something like that because if it constitutes a scrimmage, we’re not allowed to scrimmage yet.
“So it really is just practicing together. But it’s tough to practice, especially with our numbers, to get a scout team. So this was really good. This was really good and it’s not live. We’re just doing our stuff, but it was good.”
The Cardinals also jump to Class C South this season due to new BEDS enrollment figures under the merger, but will see plenty of familiar faces in their division. With only four Class D teams this year in Section 6, many recent D schools play in C this year, including Franklinville/Ellicottville, Portville and Chautauqua Lake (which merged with Westfield and hired former longtime Maple Grove coach Curt Fischer). Allegany-Limestone, Falconer/Cassadaga Valley and Southwestern remain C South schools.
“And we played Allegany last year,” Brown said of the familiar division rivals. “But we start out with Falconer/Cassadaga (Valley) and Southwestern, who we haven’t played. But we have scrimmaged Southwestern every year, so we know a little bit about them.
“Now Portville’s got a new coach over there (Josh Brooks), so I don’t know what to expect. I mean Gary (Swetland)’s been there for 100 years. We know exactly what to expect out of them, so we don’t know now, but I don’t know. It’ll be fun. We do get to play a few different teams. It’ll be a little bit different.”
THE RETURNING starters:
Andrew Bernard, senior, 6-3, 280, line both ways
Mason Pagett, senior, 6-0, 250, line both ways
Tyler Hind, junior, 6-0, 160, quarterback/defensive back
Deter Miinte, senior, 6-0, 190, running back/linebacker
Nick Marsh, senior, 5-9, 190, running back/linebacker
ALSO LETTERING were:
Skylar Wright, senior, 6-2, 205, running back/defensive back
Tallon Delahoy, senior, 6-2, 195, offensive line/defensive end
Jake Zachar, senior, 5-10, 225, line both ways
Connour Rodgers, senior, 6-0, 240, line both ways
Nolan Brink, senior, 5-10, 155, wide receiver/defensive back
Dan Reinagel, senior, 6-3, 165, wide receiver/defensive end
Angel Benitez, senior, 5-8, 160, running back/defensive back
Zach Heberlein, junior, 5-10, 150, running back/defensive back
THE PLAYERS, by position:
Quarterbacks: T. Hind, Isaac Hind (soph., 6-10, 155)
Running Backs: Miinte, Marsh, Wright, Alex Finch (jr., 5-11, 165), Peyton Hayes (jr., 6-2, 180), Benitez, Heberlein
Ends/Receivers: Josh Brown (jr., 6-0, 205), I. Hind, Charles Madison (sr., 5-10, 140), Brad Nelson (jr., 6-3, 155), Brink, Reinagel, Heberlein
Guards/Tackles: Christian Andrews (jr., 5-10, 225), Delahoy, Zachar, Bernard, Tyler Rowley (sr., 6-1, 280), Jason Ploetz (jr., 5-10, 235), Rodgers, Steve Raymond (soph., 5-11, 165)
Centers: Pagett, Rodgers
Kickers: Ty Rosengren (jr., 6-1, 155), Brett Boyer (sr., 5-11, 160)
Ends: Delahoy, Finch, Nelson
Guards/Tackles: Andrews, Zachar, Bernard, Pagett, Rowley, Ploetz, Rodgers
Linebackers: Miinte, Marsh, Hayes, Finch, Raymond, Benitez
Defensive Backs: Finch, Brown, I. Hind, T. Hind, Madison, Boyer, Heberlein, Raymond, Dan Reuhl (jr., 5-9, 145), Brink, Wright
31 — Cassadaga Valley/Falconer, 7 p.m.
7 — at Southwestern, 7 p.m.
14 — JFK, 7 p.m.
21 — at Chautauqua Lake/Westfield, 7 p.m.
28 — Allegany-Limestone, 7 p.m.
5 — at Franklinville/Ellicottville (at Ellicottville), 7 p.m.
12 — Portville, 7 p.m.