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Valley Sports Report
TIOGA CENTER — Tioga has won 27 straight games, five consecutive Section IV, Class D titles, and back-to-back state titles. Are the Tigers motivated to extend all those streaks?

“The biggest question is: What’s going to motivate these guys? What’s going to drive them, and keep them hungry?” said Tioga coach Nick Aiello. “I can tell you the hunger is still there.

“If you look at our weight room numbers, these guys have a clear goal in mind, and that’s to go out and be successful. They’ve put the work in,” he noted. “Any success these guys have they deserve because they’re working for it. They’re not just showing up, thinking if they walk on the field, they’re going to win.”

For Aiello, it’s a simple matter of success breeds success.

“They know what it takes to win.

“That was pretty evident, not only this summer, but this preseason has been excellent,” he said. “I don’t see guys just walking around. I don’t see guys taking plays off … they understand that if they go full speed and they put the work in, the scoreboard usually takes care of itself.”

The longtime Tioga coach, who now has 10 Section IV titles and three state titles to his credit, said his players have maintained the same attitude as last year.

“The other thing I’ve been hearing out of these guys is: ‘One week at a time.’ That was our motto last year, and it’s carried over.

“I told them at the beginning, ‘you can’t just jump to the end, and you shouldn’t.’ A lot of these guys are seniors … these guys were freshmen during Covid, so they know every game you have is a blessing,” said Aiello.

“You have to take the same approach,  prepare for every game, and be ready,” he noted. “These guys buy in, they’ve been part of two state championship teams, so when they show up to practice there’s a purpose to it.

“That’s what’s great about it,” added Aiello. “Everyone talks about the skill we return, but it’s really about the experience and them understanding how you prepare for games.”

The Tigers return 10 starters on offense, and all 11 on defense. Does Aiello have anything to worry about in 2023?

“I do have my concerns, but we talk about them.

“We talk about the outside noise, and how none of that really matters,” said Aiello. “We talk about how last year doesn’t really matter. What matters is from week to week are you doing everything you can to be be prepared.

“One of our sayings is: ‘Preparation eliminates all doubt,’” noted Aiello. “That’s the approach we take, and the kids really buy into it.

“On the field, you don’t have any control over the refs, you don’t have any control over the other team, or any control over the way the ball bounces, but you can control how you prepare yourself,” added Aiello. “As long as these kids keep buying into that, eliminate the outside noise, and that 1-0 every week approach, they’ll be just fine.”

The only starter lost to graduation was center Max Dydnski, and junior Jackson Clark and freshman Derek Mills are vying for that starting spot.

Senior Levi Bellis, and junior Tate Macauley will start at the guard spots, and senior Cam Rought and junior Garrett Godfrey will start at the tackles.

Either Clark or Mills, along with seniors Hunter Fethers, Josh Benjamin-Doyle, and junior Austin Babcock will contribute off the bench on the line.

Returning New York State Class D “Player of the Year” Caden Bellis, who is 26-0 as a starter, will once again man the quarterback spot, with junior Shea Bailey serving as back-up.

Senior Drew Macumber will start at tailback, and senior Ousmane Duncanson will start at fullback. Juniors Jonah Lamb and Brennan Sindoni will serve as back-ups at tailback and fullback, respectively.

Seniors Evan Sickler and Valentino Rossi will start at wide receiver, with senior Gianni Silvestri, Bailey, sophomore Luke Nichols, Trysten Barto and senior Ben Leary vying for time off the bench.

Senior Karson Sindoni will start at tight end, with senior Gavin Fisher the back-up.

The Tigers averaged 46.7 points per game last season.

“There’s only one football, and we’ve mentioned that a few times in the preseason.

“There are a lot of guys on this team that can do a lot of special things with the ball in their hand,” said Aiello. “Whoever is carrying the has to understand that, and their attitude has to be ‘I’m lucky enough to be carrying the ball on this play,’ but the other guys have to be willing to block, or carry out a fake when they don’t have the ball.

“Spreading the ball around is what we want to do,” he noted. “Any team that can do that, and create that balance is going to be in good shape.

“We have some skill guys at our disposal, and we have to be able to utilize them,” Aiello added.

Aiello believes his line often gets overlooked.

“We return four guys up front, and two of them are still juniors,” he said. “The line had a really, really good summer.

“I’m excited for the guys up front, I think they’re really going to make an even bigger name for themselves this year,” added Aiello.

Rought, Godfrey, and Macauley will anchor the defense at tackles, with Mills and Clark rotating in as well.

Karson Sindoni and Benjamin-Doyle will start at defensive end, with Rossi and Fethers eating see time there.

Macumber and Duncanson will start at the inside linebacker spots, with Caden Bellis, Lamb, Levi Bellis and Brennan Sindoni all seeing time there.

Sickler, Bailey, and Silvestri will start in the defensive backfield, with Caden Bellis also seeing time there. Nichols, Fisher, Barto, and Leary could also see time in the secondary.

The Tigers allowed 13.2 points per game, and about half those came late in games against the second- and third-teams.

“Speed to the football, and being fast and physical on defense has to be a staple for us again this year,” said Aiello. “It’s stuff we preach year-in and year-out.

“These kids like defense, they really do.

“With the experience we have going back, we’re able to look at different things, and ways we can move people around to make us stronger,” noted Aiello. “Or, we can teach guys different positions so it gives us more flexibility in game plans.

“Tackling is a big thing, too,” added Aiello. “We stress tackling so much, and the kids buy into that as well. We can’t tackle each other all the time, but anytime we’re working tackling, they understand how important it is.

Fisher will handle the punting and kicking duties, while Sicker will serve as the holder, and Caden Bellis and Godfrey will handle the long-snapping chores.

Sickler, Rossi, Duncanson, and Bailey will handle the punt and kick return duties.

Aiello believes Fisher, who was an all-state kicker as a sophomore, is a difference-maker.

“Gavin is just a great weapon for us.,” he said. “Anytime you can pin a team deep, and you have a kicker that can do that, it’s a tremendous bonus. It helps your defense, too.

“Field position is so big in big-time games,” Aiello added. “It can make or break you. Sometimes it’s tough to flip the field position, but if you have a good kicker / punter it makes it a bit easier.”

Tioga opens the 2023 season Saturday against Section IX Burke Catholic at 3 p.m. at Waverly’s Memorial Stadium.


IN PHOTO 1: Tioga’s Caden Bellis. … VSR STOCK PHOTOS.

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