By Greg Klein STAFF WRITER
---- — New Cooperstown football coach Joe Pestar is a football throwback. Or, maybe based on his preferred style of play, you would call him a runback.
“Yeah, I guess I’m old-school,” he said. “I like ball control offense. I like to run the ball. Mark (Segina) threw it a lot.”
Pestar, who coached varsity football for 10 years at Richfield Springs and helped his friend Steve Pugliese with Cooperstown Central School football for several years after that said he is excited about returning to the gridiron.
“I missed it,” he said. “It never really goes out of your life.”
Segina may have left Cooperstown to return to Unadilla Valley after one 1-7 season, but he left the program in a better place than he found it.
Cooperstown lost only five seniors — quarterbacks Noah Sims and Sawyer Haney, lineman John Brown and co-captains Jacob Miller and Kevin Segit — although they were all key players:
“The Miller boy and the Segit boy, they were good players,” Pestar said. “I had them on my J.V. team and they were leaders then too.”
The team will have 24 players this year. Last year’s team started with 23, but injuries cut it below 20. And last year’s totals included a big freshman class. No freshmen will play varsity this year, Pestar said.
“Since we had the numbers this year, we decided to leave them down,” he said. “We’ll have a big class coming up from modified football.”
One of last year’s freshmen, Carmen Booan, is the leading contender to replace Sims and Haney at quarterback. Booan was the team’s center last season.
“He has been taking control in the huddle,” Pestar said. “He is very vocal, which is what I am looking for in a quarterback. He is doing fine at handing the ball off, and his passes are improving every day. Plus he is very smart.”
Cooperstown returns most of its skill players, including seniors Lucas Lyons, Joe Harmon and Max Bonderoff and sophomore Scott Segit. Lyons will play tailback in the I formation that Pestar said he intends to run.
“We’ve got a lot of skill players back, and most of them are seniors, which is what you like to see,” Pestar said. “That’s a good thing.”
Although Booan is moving off the line, and Brown graduated, the team will have a lot of returning lineman with good size.
Seniors Jesse Shute, Cullen Rathbone and Ben Carentz, and junior Ken Stahl all return this season. Sophomores Noah Briggs and Colin Wilcox will also play lineman on both sides of the ball.
“It has been a while since we have had such big interior lineman,” Pestar said. “I think my linemen weigh 260, 285, 220. My smallest guy is like 185 pounds.”
Junior Michael Perrino will return after missing last season with a broken collarbone. Perrino will play nose tackle and tight end, and is also getting some reps at quarterback, Pestar said.
Pestar said assistant coach Jim LaCava is in charge of the defense. Cooperstown will start off keeping a 3-4 similar but not identical to the one Segina ran.
“We’ll make a few changes to it,” Pestar said. “You know, that’s why you have a scrimmage. You have to go out on the field and see what works. If it doesn’t work, we’ll change it.”
At linebacker, sophomore E.J. Perez and junior T.J. Fay are back. Both players had breakout years last season on defense. Lyons, Bonderoff, Harmon and Segit will also play in the secondary.
Cooperstown will again play in the D East division, which is filled with tough opponents. Defending champ West Canada Valley, which went undefeated in the regular season before losing to Westmoreland in the section semifinals, returns a big class of players. Dolgeville and Herkimer should both be good as well. Waterville, Sauquoit Valley and Morrisville-Eaton/Hamilton round out the division.
“It is the toughest division of the three (Section Three Class D divisions), no doubt in my mind,” Pestar said. “Dolgeville, Herkimer and West Canada Valley aren’t new to me. They were the same teams we were trying to beat when I was here before. We’ll give them something to think about when we play them. I’ll tell you that.”
Cooperstown starts the season at home at 2 p.m. Saturday when it hosts Waterville. Pestar sounds excited to get going.
“I love coaching young kids,” he said. “I’m very excited to be able to do this again. Cooperstown has a lot of great people supporting us. The administration backs you, and the athletic director, Monica (Wolfe), she is there for the kids. I think we are going to do well.”