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SECTION IV FOOTBALL: 'SPECIAL GROUP' OF WAVERLY SENIORS POISED TO MAKE RUN AT SECTION IV TITLE REPEAT IN 2023 (2023-09-01)

By TIM BIRNEY
Valley Sports Report
WAVERLY — Waverly graduated some key seniors from its 2022 Section IV, Class C title team, but Jason Miller knows he has a “special group” of seniors, led by two-time all-state QB Joey Tomasso, returning to make a run at a title repeat in 2023.

“Going back to the Covid year, most of these (seniors) were freshmen playing on varsity,” said Miller. “It was tough going, and we got the snot beat of us. We played some really good teams.

“These seniors are winners.They’ve improved every year.

“They give us great leadership,” he noted. “It’s not a big group, I think there are eight seniors … they’re very close. They’re athletes and compete in multiple sports. They love to compete, and that drives them.

“Joey (Tomasso) is just flat-out a winner,” said Miller. “He does everything right, he works hard, pays attention to detail, and is extremely coachable.

“He’s not afraid to lose, which is a huge part of being a quarterback,” added Miller. “He’s not afraid to take chances … he understands the ball is in his hands, and we go how he goes.”

The Wolverines open the 2023 campaign at home Saturday against Class B Honeoye Falls-Lima, then host two-time Class D state champ Tioga next Friday. After a game at divisional foe Sidney, Waverly hosts Class AA Elmira, then is on the road take on arch-rival Chenango Forks.

“The first half our schedule is a killer,” said Miller. “We’re going to be tested, but I would truly rather have it this way. We’re going to know where we stand.

“We have two division games in the first five weeks,” he noted. “Obviously, the really big divisional game is in Week 4 (fifth game counting Week Zero) against Chenango Forks.

“By that game, we’ll either be beat up, or we’ll have learned a lot about ourselves.

“I see it as a positive … we may not have a perfect record, but we may have a perfect record. Who knows?” noted Miller. “I do know we’ll be fully confident going into those games.

“I like our focus,” he continued. “There is absolutely zero nonsense in practice. The kids are determined … they’ve experienced success — 20 wins in two years is a lot of wins.

“We experienced what it’s like to make it into the state tournament. It wasn’t a good experience,” added Miller. “We’re hungry to get back there, and the only way to do that is to get better week-to-week. If we don’t get bet better each week after playing this schedule, I don’t know what we could do otherwise.”

Junior J.T. Williams will anchor the offensive line at center, with sophomore Troy Beeman and junior Kam Hills at the guard spots, and senior Jake Benjamin and freshman Carson Rockwell

Caden McCutcheon and freshman Parker Larson will vie for time off the bench at guard, and Aiden Strope and Ryan Shepherd will vie for time at tackle.

Freshman Matthias Welles and Nate Peters are Waverly’s tight ends.

Miller believes the offensive line will be a strength for the Wolverines.

“J.T. (Williams) and Carson (Rockwell) do not have any game experience at the varsity level other than clean-up, but they’re really playing well and doing good jobs at very key positions,” he said. “I think they are both going to be very good.

“Hills and Beeman are very good, but still young, Jake (Benjamin) is the only senior on that line The three of them are very experience, which helps the inexperienced guys.

“We have really moved along and progressed in our first two weeks of practice,” added Miller. “I think we’re going to be pretty good up front.:

Depth may be an issue up front, says Miller.

“It is a concern, but we have young guys  who are coming along very quickly, and doing quite well.”

Tomasso will start at quarterback, with freshman Ben Shaw serving as the back-up.

All-state receiver senior Jay Pipher will start at slot back, along with sophomore Hogan Shaw. Athens transfer Kolsen Keathley will also see time there if he is ruled eligible by the state. Seth Noto could also see time there.

At x-receiver, senior Jake VanHouten, and Athens transfer junior Xavier Watson will get the starting nods with sophomore Ronin Ault and senior Braeden Nichols vying for time off the bench.

Juniors Payton Fravel, Carter George, senior Gage Frutchey, and eventually Tioga transfer Ethan Perry, who should be eligible in Week 2 against Sidney, will see time at tailback.

The Wolverines averaged 35.1 points per game in 2022, and return nearly intact at the skill positions.

“We got a lot of reps in the summer, I feel good about where we’re at,” said Miller.

“Xavier (Watson) has really developed,” he noted. “It’s night-and-day from the first time he stepped on the field in June, and I hope he goes out and proves that. (Watson) is a real weapon, and having Jake (VanHouten) on the other side, and being creative with those guys creates match-up issues.

“Hogan Shaw is doing a great job in the slot,” said Miller. “He has really good hands, runs really good routes, is smart,  knows the offense, and gives us another weapon inside. Kolsen (Keathley) would be our other guy in the slot. He’s a worker, a leader, and would gives us another dangerous weapon.

“I think Ronin Ault is our most improved player. He’ll be rotating in at times, but he’s come a long, long way.

“We’re very solid in the receiving corps,” added Miller

And Pipher, who already holds most of the Waverly receiving records, also returns.

“He’s flat-out dangerous when he has the ball in his hands,” said Miller. “After playing with Joey for four years at the varsity level, they obviously have a great connection.

“The things that is a little different this year is that you have to worry about our outside receivers, you cannot focus on Jay,” added Miller. “That will make him even more dangerous.

Hills and Beeman will anchor the Waverly defense at the interior tackle spots, with Welles and Benjamin manning the defensive end spots.

McCutcheon, Rockwell, and Strope will provide depth at tackle, with Shepherd and Williams vying for time at end.

Ben Shaw and Peters will start at inside linebackers, with senior Gage Stahl and freshman Justin Koenig also vying for time there.

Fravel and George will start at outside linebacker, with Keathley a possibility if he is cleared.

Pipher and Watson will start at cornerback, with Hogan Shaw rotating in. Noto could also see time there.

VanHouten will start at safety, with Tomasso rotating in depending on coverage

Miller’s biggest concern is the linebacker corps, which is looking to replace five seniors, who accounted for nearly 500 tackles.

“We graduated five linebackers, and that’s a major, major, major concern,” said Miller. “None of our guys have game experience.

“Tioga will obviously run it right at us, Elmira will run it right at us, and Honeoye Falls-Lima has a good inside run game,” noted Miller. “These guys are going to get thrown to the fire.

“I think they’re improving, but they have a long ways to go,” he continued. “The only way they’re going to get better is through these games.

“Technically, they are sound and understand what they’re suppose to do, it’s just a matter of doing it, and proving it on the field,” Miller added.

The defensive line should be a major strength, and that should help cover up the lack of experience of the linebackers.

“That’s going to be the case throughout the whole year,” said Miller. “I think we’ll be very good up front.

“Teams are going to have a hard time running at Kam (Hills) and Troy (Beeman) — it takes two people to block both those guys,” he noted. “It’s going to take a special player to single block them one-on-one, so that’s going to cover up our inside linebackers a little bit; and we’re banking on that.”

Hogan Shaw will handle the kicking chores, replacing all-state kicker Ryan Clark, as well as the punting duties.

“I believe (Hogan Shaw) is the next all-state kicker from Waverly, and we’ve had a train-load of them,” said Miller. “He doesn’t have quite as strong of a leg as (Ryan) Clark, but he has a strong leg.

“And, he’s a super-good punter,” added Miller. “He gets it up in the air, and turns it over.”

Benjamin will handle the long-snapping chores, and Ben Shaw will be the holder.

Pipher, VanHouten and freshman Bryce LaForest will handled the punt and kick return duties.

As he normally does, Miller is looking to his youngsters for special teams.

“We’re going to try and get a lot of younger guys involved in special teams to give our starters a breather,” he said. “We’ll rotate in as many guys as we possibly can, especially early in the year.

“Of course, that kind of bit us in the ass early in the season last year,” noted Miller. “We had to go back to putting starters on defense on the kick-off team for example after we gave up kick returns for scores in the first two or three games.

“We’ll give it another whirl this year and see what happens,” he added.

AROUND THE DIVISION
Miller, like most everyone else, believes the division will come down to Waverly and Chenango Forks, but he keeps a wary eye on Susquehanna Valley.

Susquehanna Valley has a good core of kids returning, and they are always physical and tough,” he said. “We play them on their Homecoming.

“And, I always have respect for Susquehanna Valley because they are well-coached,” noted Miller.

“I think Oneonta lost a lot, and I don’t know much about Sidney,” continued Miller.

“As for us, we want to be 1-0 in our division going into the Forks games; that’s our focus,” he said. “What matters to us is putting ourselves in position to make the playoffs — period; that’s what we need to focused and centered on.

“Everything else is football games, and match-up that are really entertaining for the fans,” he added.

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IN PHOTO: Waverly coach Jason Miller and senior Joey Tomasso. … VSR STOCK PHOTO.

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