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FROM THE PRESS BOX: A CRYSTAL BALL LOOK AHEAD TO THE 2024 FOOTBALL SEASON (2023-12-04)

I say it just about every year, but it’s never been more true than this year — what a football season!

Tioga won its third straight New York State Class D title behind a senior class, led by QB Caden Bellis, that went 40-0 in three years of varsity play, and Waverly won its first-ever Class C title under the guidance of Jason Miller, and direction of senior QB Joey Tomasso.

Things weren’t quite as rosy South of the Border where Athens went 3-8, and Sayre posted a 1-9 record, but there is reason for optimism with both programs.

The question now is, what lies in store for 2024? Well, the crystal ball is a bit murky with the season still about nine months away, but I’ll tell you what I see.

Athens Wildcats: The Wildcats were hit hard by graduation and transfers, but still managed three wins, and that could have been five wins with a little luck.

Athens has quite a bit of talent returning in the skill positions, led by Connor Davidson, Cooper Robinson, Eli Chapman, and Sean Peters.

Caleb Nason and Brenden Comstock return to anchor the line on both sides of the ball, but they’ll need some youngsters to step up next season.

Prediction: Most of the Wildcats skill players will be sophomores and juniors in 2024, so they are still going to be young. Coach Shawn Bradley is a wrestling guy, and the more wrestlers Athens can get on the football team, the better. Don’t be surprised if this team shows marked improvement next year. … 2024 record: 6-5 with loss in opening round of District 4, Class 4A playoffs.

Sayre Redskins: The Redskins only won one game, and were only competitive in one other game, but their returning players got a year of experience, and so did the coaching staff.

If Sayre can maintain numbers next year (they finished the season with just 18 kids — including five seniors), I think they can re-build the program. I say that because I’ve seen a renewed resolve from a couple members of the administration to keep the athletic programs alive in Sayre. And, the lack of any type of support for its coaches in recent years is one of the reasons athletics are in the shambles they are.

The Redskins return some good athletes in Karter Green, Nick Pellicano, Mikey Griffin, Jamier Kole, and Jordan Brown to name a few, and a few linemen, but will need to add to its starting line-up, and add some depth.

Prediction: The NTL Small School Division has a couple of good programs, but the majority of the schools are up-and-down from year to year. If Sayre can build its numbers a little bit, there’s no reason it can’t be competitive. … 2024 record: 2-8.

Tioga Tigers:
Yes, Tioga graduates 13 seniors, who are largely responsible for three state titles, and 41 consecutive wins, but the cupboard is far from bare.

The Tigers return four starters on the offensive line, and have a couple good options to fill the one opening, which means they are going to be very good up front. They might not have the same diversity to their offense next season, but they should be able to run the ball very effectively with Jonah Lamb and Brennan Sindoni, and throw enough to keep defenses honest.

While’s Tioga’s front seven on defense should be very good, there are some questions about the secondary, but coach Nick Aiello and his staff will have plenty of athletes to choose from to fill those needs.

Prediction: Tioga is certain to take a few steps back toward the pack, but it will still be the team to beat in Class D in Section IV. Yes, they graduated 13 seniors, but the JV team went 9-0 against the likes of Athens, Waverly, Susquehanna Valley, Chenango Forks, and Johnson City. … The Tigers are going to be just fine in 2024, but if they play Waverly, and I think they will, the win streak comes to an end. … 2024 record: 11-2 with loss to CSP in state semifinals.

Waverly Wolverines: It’s going to be a little different for Waverly fans to watch their red-and-white without Joey Tomasso at QB for the first time since 2018, but the state championship banner hanging at Memorial Stadium in the fall will help ease the pain.

Like Tioga, the Wolverines lose some studs to graduation, but return a slew of talent in 2024, led by Kolsen Keathley, Xavier Watson, Kam Hills, Matthias Welles, and Troy Beeman.

The offense will look a little different, probably more of a run-oriented attack with Keathley likely at tailback behind a very experienced offensive line, but coach Jason Miller is a QB at heart, so the offense will no doubt remain diversified.

The defense should be just as good next year, if not better with Hills, Welles, Beeman, Ben Shaw, and Nate Peters a year older, which will give the offense time to work out some of the kinks.

Prediction: The Wolverines are going to win a lot of football games again in 2024. Once again, the main obstacle in Waverly’s path to a Section IV, Class C three-peat will be Chenango Forks. The Blue Devils will suffer graduation losses, but they don’t appear to be as heavy as Waverly’s. … 2024 record: 10-2 with loss to Chenango Forks in Section IV title game.

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