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SECTION IV FOOTBALL: TIOGA' AIELLO EMBRACES SKY-HIGH EXPECTATIONS SURROUNDING TIGERS IN 2021 (2021-09-09)

By TIM BIRNEY
Valley Sports Report
TIOGA CENTER — Expectations surrounding Tioga heading into the the 2021 football season are sky high, and longtime coach Nick Aiello welcomes those expectations.

“We know there are high expectations … we have high expectations, but I think it’s like any other year. We want to work hard in practice, and trust the process.

“Do I think this team has tons of potential? Absolutely,” said Aiello. “But potential is just something people talk about. Potential is what you put on paper, it’s what you could be. Really, it’s the work you put in, and the want and desire to get better each and every day that’s going to achieve goals.

“What do I want out of this team? I want this team to show up for practice ready to go, and work hard,” noted Aiello.

“Do I think this team could do great things? I do,” continued Aiello. “It’s really no different than any other year for me. These guys have put in so much work in the offseason, and really want to be here.

“We’re going to carry 19 or 20 guys this season because we’re really trying to hold on to our JV team. So these guys are going to have to do they due diligence to be prepared, be conditioned, and play as a team.”

“Are the expectations high? Absolutely,” added Aiello. “I want them to be high. I want that good pressure, but at the same time I want these guys to understand what it takes. You can’t just write down what you want to be, you have to make it happen.”

Senior Josh Snell will anchor the offensive line at center, with junior Jack Woodcock likely to see time there as well.

Senior Chris Walsh and sophomore Karson Sindoni will flank Snell at the guards, with senior Matt Watson and freshman Tate McCauley starting at the tackles spots. Freshman Garrett Godfrey will likely see time at guard and tackle.

Senior Cobe Whitmore will start at tight end, with senior Justin Hopkins also slated to see time there.

“We’re a little young on the line, and that’s a little bit of a concern, but if you’re new on the varsity line it only takes a few games under your belt to get up to speed,” said Aiello.

“We have three guys returning,” noted Aiello. “Matt Watson played tight end last year, but he’s doing a great job at tackle.

“It will take our young guys a few games, but we brought them up for a reason, because we think they can get the job done,” added Aiello.

Sophomore Caden Bellis will step in at quarterback to direct the offense, with sophomore Gavin Fisher serving as back-up.

“I’m not really concerned the quarterback position,” said Aiello. “(Bellis) is a football player. He’s played the position from youth all the way up through, and there’s a reason for that.

“He has great command for the position, and over the huddle. He has a really good football mind, he understands the game,” noted Aiello. “He’s a tough-nosed kid, he’s composed, and he has command over the offense.

“When you talk about big games, he’s the type of kid you need at quarterback,” he added.

Senior Emmett Wood, who has 5,232 yards and 65 TDs in his 2 1/2 seasons on varsity, will be the featured tailback, but senior Isaac Peterson, and sophomores Osumane Duncanson and Drew Macumber will also see carries.

Senior Gavin Godfrey will start at fullback, with Hopkins and Macumber also likely to see time there.

Duncanson and sophomore Valentino Rossi will split time at slot back, with sophomore Evan Sickler and senior Logan Roberts will see time at split end.

“It’s a pretty good mix of seniors, and young guys — sophomores and freshmen,” said Aiello. “I think the young guys are still raw, but they bring a lot of athleticism and raw talent to the table.

“As the season progresses, we’ll try to shape that, and mold that talent they have,” he noted. “Early on, it’s all about building confidence, and catching them up to the varsity speed.

“Our seniors are seasoned veterans, most of them have played since they were sophomores. After the season we had in the spring, they are itching to make their mark on the program.

“With all the work they’ve put in during the offseason and the preseason, I hope they have a special year because they deserve it,” Aiello added.

The Tigers are known for their dominant ground game, but Aiello strives for a balanced offense.

“Every year, we look at how we can be more balanced on offense. We know it will help us in big games,” said Aiello. “We’ve worked on it as a staff. We look to see how we can incorporate it in with a run game that we take a lot of pride in.

“With the running backs we have this year, we could really run those horses, but if we can balance it out and throw the ball, it’s just going to help us more in big games,” he noted. “Sharing the ball is always good … and I think we have the personnel to do it.

“At the same time, you look at teams in Section IV that win in November, they tend to be primarily running teams, but they can throw the ball when they have to,” Aiello added. “That’s the balance we’ve been looking for.”

Defensively, Watson, Snell, Walsh, and Sindoni will start on the defensive line, with McCawley, Garrett Godfrey, and Woodcock seeing time up front as well.

Wood, Hopkins, Woodcock, Whitmore will see time at the outside linebacker spots, with Peterson, Duncanson, Bellis, and Macumber seeing time at inside linebacker.

“We have a lot of depth at linebacker right now,” said Aiello. “We’re confident in all our linebackers. We’re going to have to figure out a rotation to get guys reps, but the plan is to try and use as many as possible.”

Sickler, Gavin Godfrey, Whitmore, Logan Roberts, and Rossi will all see plenty of time in the defensive backfield.

“Our biggest concern is getting our young guys up to speed on the speed of the (varsity) game, and how important game-planning is,” said Aiello. “The varsity game is different than any other level. You have to know game plans, and the game happens fast.

“We’re looking for the young guys to understand how important the game plan is, and to make sure they’re not just relying on their athleticism to make up for any mistakes they make.

“We’re going to know what kind of team we have in the first four or five weeks, and the young guys are going to have to catch up really fast because we have some big games coming up,” Aiello added.

Aiello acknowledges his team may be a bit under-sized, but he is high on his team’s speed.

“I think overall team speed is perhaps our biggest strength. We have a lot of athleticism, and we’re stressing being quick to the ball, hats to the ball, gang-tackling, and team defense,” said Aiello. “If we can do that, and we can swarm the ball, I think we’re going to be just fine.

“Teams may look at us as being a little under-sized, but I’m hoping our quickness and speed make up for that,” he added.

Fisher will handle the punting and place-kicking duties for the Tigers, with Gavin Godfrey the long-snapper. Bellis could also step in at long-snapper if necessary, while Whitmore or Sickler will hold on kicks.

Duncanson, Rossi, Sickler, and Wood will handle the punt and kick return chores.

AROUND SECTION IV, CLASS D
NOTE: With Whitney Point dropping to 8-man football, Class D is now just one eight-team division, which also includes B-G, Delhi Deposit-Hancock, Harpursville-Afton, Newark Valley, Sidney and Walton.

“Usually, we have a pretty good feel for the teams in Class D, but after not really seeing anyone from the other side during the spring season, it’s difficult to get a feel for the teams in the East,” said Aiello.

“We’ve circled a lot of games on our schedule. We figure Walton is going to be Walton, so that will be a tough game.

“Delhi has made some great things happen in the last couple years. We think they’re going to play a tough style of football, and they’ll be ready for us,” said Aiello.

“Newark Valley has our number, and they’ve had it for several years now. With them dropping from Class C to D, that becomes an even bigger game. It’s not just a rivalry anymore, now you’re talking trying to get out of the division, and trying to get out of the Section,” continued Aiello. “That coaching staff does a great job, and they’re going to have that team ready even with all those graduates.

“Harpursville (Afton) is down to Class D. They have quite a few back from last year, and they could be pretty tough.

“I think we’re going to have our hands full. The reason there are only eight teams left in Class D is because those are the eight teams that have traditionally put a lot into building their program, and that’s why they’re still around as an 11-man team,” Aiello added. “I think every week is going to be big, which is a little different. Being all one division, with the top four making the playoffs is going to make it a nose-to-the-grindstone type season.”

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IN PHOTO: Tioga’s Emmett Wood.

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