CHESHIRE — Over the last three years, the Hoosac Valley football team has earned 27 wins to only five losses and two Western Massachusetts championships, while being one play away from back-to-back titles in 2015.
Heading into this season, the core group responsible for the recent run of success is gone, and Hoosac enters its first year as a member of the PVIAC's Suburban North division with a new crop of talent.
Hoosac is the smallest school enrollment-wise in the Suburban North, with 194 boys, while the largest school, Chicopee, has 443 boys. Coach Dayne Poirot said the players aren't focused on the schedule, but they know the tradition of quality football teams that they're following in. The winning atmosphere set by players such as Matt Koperniak, Jameson Coughlan, Peter Barrow and Avery Hall continued the legacies of the great teams before them.
"It set the tone since we've been here," Poirot said of the 2016 class, "how we need to play, how we need to practice, how we need to do everything to prepare for every season. We've pointed that out to these guys whenever we need to and they point that out to each other.
"They know very well the amount of work that they need to put in to be successful to play as a smaller squad with bigger programs. They've learned that from those guys."
As each class of players looks to create its own legacy, the current group of players do not shy away from the standards set by the '16 class. Hall went from a sparingly used running back as a junior, to the featured back of the offense last season. Current running back Brenden Ellsworth is looking to follow a similar path, after sharing carries last season. Ellsworth said Hall's work ethic was the main thing he's learned after being his understudy the last few years.
Adam Bush is in a similar spot, replacing the heart of the offense and defense in Coughlan. Bush is taking over at right tackle, as he tries to anchor Hoosac's offensive line.
"There's always pressure when you move into a position of a player that good," Bush said. "When you have players like that, they can't really be replaced because of the kind of athletes they were. But you can do your best to try and fill their shoes.
"The only way to get over [pressure] is work hard and work as a team."
Austin Mendel, Noah Matrigali, Chris Larabee and Kyle Sagendorph round out the offensive line, a group that will be responsible for keeping new quarterback Nick Waterman upright. Last season, Waterman showed the ability to throw the ball down field, connecting with Vance Eugene for a 22-yard strike while filling in for Koperniak against Monument Mountain.
It is too early to know if Waterman can have the same effect on the running game that Koperniak had, but his strong arm may keep the defense honest. Koperniak was not much of a vocal leader, but his calm demeanor kept the team poised in crucial situations. Those are big shoes to fill for the junior signal caller, but with only six seniors on the roster, Waterman may need to step into a leadership role right away.
Yes, a lot of new players will be taking the field against Westfield tonight, but Poirot said the team is not rebuilding.
"We have some stuff to build off," he said. "[Last year's group] they set the tone and these guys that were here learned a lot and have to step up and progress. I think this year they're in different roles, but they have to learn in those roles and embrace them. Be passionate and work as hard as those guys did to get better every week."
Contact Akeem Glaspie at 413-496-6252