PITTSFIELD -- This season has been a long time in coming for the St. Joseph's football team.
"We've been through it all," said running bank Tank Roberson. "With our leadership on this team, I think we can go pretty far. We've really been talking about this since eighth grade."
The Crusaders will get their shot to prove just how far they've come Saturday night when they welcome Wahconah Regional and new coach Gary Campbell, Jr. to Wahconah Park at 7 p.m.
St. Joe's coach Gary Bianchi's veteran team features 17 seniors, some who have experienced big-time success during the Crusaders' run to a state Division III championship game in basketball last season. Over the last couple years, he said this group has really bought in to what they need to do.
"We're way closer as a team," Lavante Wiggins said. "Everybody knows the plays. We work hard. We get off the line way faster. We attack. We're just a way better team than we were last year."
Wiggins is one example of some of the biggest leaps St. Joe's has made. The running back has bulked up, adding about 15 pounds in the weight room. It's the same story on the offensive line, which is no longer "little" according to Roberson.
It appears these Crusaders may finally have some size to complement that wealth of speed.
"I'm not saying I got any 250 or 260 pounders but my offensive lineman all worked hard in the weight room and are much stronger than they were last year," Bianchi said.
Bianchi hopes some of that effort will come to fruition against the Warriors. The Crusaders are expected to start Jon Bianchi, the coach's son, at quarterback. Bianchi is returning under center after suffering a meniscus tear at a football camp this summer.
It likely won't be easy against Campbell, a clever coach who is starting his second stint at Wahconah after spending six years coaching in football-mad Pennsylvania. The always high-energy Campbell said he's ready to get the season started no matter the opponent or the venue.
"I don't care if it was Tuesday night in the North Adams Walmart parking lot," he said. "I'm excited. I'm excited to represent Wahconah again."
Campbell, who played at Wahconah, has already shown in scrimmages an affinty for throwing the ball. When that happens in a run-heavy league like Berkshire County, unpredictable things start to happen, Gary Bianchi said. Even if senior quarterback Lane Grogan can connect with his receivers on Saturday night, the Warriors will still need to find a way to slow down the Crusaders.
"As coach Campbell said, it's a team sport," Grogan said. "If we can all come together as a team and help take down one specific person, we can probably come out on top."
This first Saturday night of the season will come down to that: who has built the better team.
"We all know this is it," Jon Bianchi said of his senior season. "We want to make the most of it."
To reach Christopher James:
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On Twitter: @BECJ2K