|SECTION IV FOOTBALL: CHAFFEE HOPES TO MAKE SVEC A CHALLENGER (2018-08-09)
BY TIM TAYLOR
Valley Sports Report
SPENCER — Mike Chaffee is no stranger to Section IV football, so he shouldn’t be caught off guard as he takes over as the head coach of the Spencer-Van Etten / Candor football program. In fact, he plans on making the Eagles a legitimate challenger among the section's Class C ranks.
A 2002 graduate of S-VE, Chaffee would return to the local area to coach after playing at St. Lawrence University, then coaching at SLU and Ithaca College. His college coaching career began as a graduate assistant for the Saints in 2008. After two years at SLU he joined the Bombers’ staff, coaching the linebackers for a year. Chaffee then delved into the scholastic ranks as a modified coach at Candor, then joined Ron Miller’s staff at S-VE, serving as an assistant for five seasons.
“I’m very familiar with this area, and the leagues and the teams that are on our schedule,” Chaffee said.
With the S-VE and Candor programs heading into their third season as a combined team, Chaffee is prepared for the challenges of running a program which merged teams which were longtime bitter rivals.
“I think we’ve gotten past most of the challenges,” he said. “The last couple years, the kids have really embraced it. They’ve embraced the change and the culture. What that brings is it brings the two communities together and the kids have done a great job of being united, coming together as one versus before; we had two teams that were rivals. They essentially know that we are one team, one family. It hasn’t really been a challenge these last couple years, so I don’t foresee any challenges with that here in the future.”
When it comes to their coaching ideals, Chaffee feels he and his predecessor think along the same lines for the most part.
“I think coach Miller and I, we share a lot of the same philosophies as far as the values that we have and the expectations that we have from our players as far as what we expect from them,” he said. “There will be a change and our philosophies are a little different, but I think we kind of hold some of the same core values that we expect from our players.”
On the field, defense will see very few, if any changes, but the offense will mix it up.
“Defensively, we’re going to run a lot of the same stuff,” Chaffee said. “Craig Bennett is coming back as our defensive coordinator, so he’s got his system that he’s going to run. He’s got full reign of the defense.
“We’re going to change things up offensively, going to run more of a spread operation, multiple formations that get guys out in space, a little bit different than things we’ve done in the past, so we will see some changes on the offensive side of the ball.”
Chaffee has been able to stay in contact with most of the players during the off-season, so they should be prepared for the start of the 2018 season.
“Throughout the summer we’ve gotten together quite a bit, guys in the weight room, down on the game field, getting guys running around, throwing the ball around, getting them introduced to the new system, trying to get the terminology down, because it’s going to be an overall change on the offensive side of the ball,” he said. “The guys have been great. They’ve been working hard all summer out here and they’re ready to hit the ground running next Monday."
The coach believes his players are very receptive to the change in the offensive game plan.
“They’re very excited about it,” said Chaffee. “I think it’s going to be an offense that’s kind of tethered towards the type of kids that we have. We don’t have a lot of real big guys, so we can’t really run much power football. We’ve got to kind of spread things out, use our speed and our quickness to our advantage. I think the guys have really accepted that. They’re excited about running a different offensive system.”
This year’s team will blend experience and youth, according to Chaffee.
“We’ve got a lot of young guys coming up that are going to have to step up and take on a new role,” he said. “We’ve got some good veteran leadership coming back, guys like Christian Haynes. He’s been a top performer for us the last couple years in the backfield. Nathan Mack, a big tight end, is a kid that is pretty versatile. We can put him out into space, we can put his hand on the ground, we can do a lot of different things with him. Some guys on the interior line, like Ben VanGalder, another senior lineman, expecting a lot of things out of him this year.”
Chaffee is also expecting good things from seniors Cameron Fitzgerald, a wide receiver / strong safety, and fellow skill position players Caleb Vaow and Shawn Watson.
“We’ve got a lot of veteran guys coming back,” he said. “We’ve also got some young guys coming in that are going to have to step up and compete for a spot.” They include sophomore quarterback candidates Matthew Byrne and James Sutherlin.
“We’ve got positions where guys are going to have to come in and really grow into a role,” Chaffee added. “We’re going to see some growing pains for sure, but we’ve got a good mix. It’s just a matter of putting the guys in the best position where they can succeed in putting it all together.”
The early season will provide Chaffee with an overview at how competitive the Eagles can be.
“We’ve got a pretty tough schedule,” he said. “We start out with Walton and Tioga, two perennial powerhouse programs. They’re going to be very tough right out of the gate. I think those first couple of games are kind of going to set the tone for our season, so we’ve got to really prepare and work hard, and put our best foot forward.”
In Class C, Chaffee expects tough challenges from Newark Valley, Susquehanna Valley, Chenango Valley, Whitney Point and Dryden.
“We’ve got a real tough schedule, but I think we’ve got the kids and I’ve got a great coaching staff that we’ve put together,” he said. "I think if things work right for us, and we continue to work hard and grow, I think we’ve got a shot to be a contender and we’re going to put our guys in the best position possible, and we’ll see what happens.”
Gino Martone and Ricky Lindblad will join the varsity coaching staff and also run the first-year JV program. Cliff Pierce and Dan Craven are going to run the modified program.
“This is the first year that we’re going to have a JV program,” Chaffee said. “We merged our modified teams with Spencer and Candor as well, so we’re going to try and build that JV program so we can finally build a program as a whole. I think that’s good. It will be a big step for us moving forward in building a program."
SVEC went 7-3 in 2016, its inaugural season, losing to eventual undefeated state champion Newark Valley in the Section IV Class C championship game. Two of the Eagles’ losses that season came against NV. The other was a 26-20 overtime setback against Oneonta. 2017 was a different story due to heavy graduation losses. SVEC won two of its first three games, then fell into a five-game tailspin. The skid included losses to Lansing and Dryden by one and two points, respectively. Victories in those games would have put the Eagles in the playoffs.
IN PHOTO: Mike Chaffee.
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