Braves new day: Taconic football returns with host of fresh faces after Western Mass. championship win

PITTSFIELD — As the Taconic football went through team drills during the first day of football practice on Friday, new faces have replaced several of the key players that helped lead the Braves to the Western Massachusetts Division III championship last season.

Last year, the Braves were a senior-laden group. The 12 seniors on the team helped turn around the program, providing gradual growth that paid off with a championship.

Their success has carried over to the next generation, producing a 17-player freshmen class that could grow even larger. While the future looks bright, rising senior Cedric Rose said it is a little different not having Brandon Peaslee, Jake McNeice and company at practice anymore.

"It feels a lot different not seeing [the seniors] out here, but we've got a new team coming up," he said. "I've had to step up as a senior to guide them in the right direction, and help them understand and know what it takes to do that again."

The 2017 class won only one game as freshmen in 2013. Rose said he remembers what it's like to be a freshman, trying to make an impact while getting accustomed to life in high school at the same time.

"At first it was tough, of course it was difficult," he said. "This is even before school starts, so they haven't seen everyone yet. This is your first time seeing the older kids.

"But our seniors and older guys, we're nice. We welcome [the freshmen] with open arms. We just let them know that they're a part of the team and they're family."

Even with the high level of roster turnover, Taconic coach Jim Ziter said he expects the quality of the team to remain the same. He said his squad has more depth than in the past, giving him the ability to go two-deep at most positions. He added that several sophomore could earn quality playing time as well.

"We've got a lot of freshmen," Ziter said. "We have more new kids than we've had in the past, but the upperclassmen, I've had them the last two-three years. They're taking the challenge filling the roles that are open now. It's going to be a good competition the next two to three weeks."

As camp progresses, the wide-eyed freshmen and first-year players will become more comfortable on the football field. They'll have seniors such as Rose, Lucien Almeida, Nikos Gian and Hunter Johnston to show them the ropes.

Ziter said he wants his underclassmen to understand how much hard work goes into making a long tournament run.

"A lot of the seniors now were freshmen when [the 2017 class] were sophomores, so I don't think they understand," he said. "We've been trying all offseason in the summer, explaining to them what it takes to get to the tournament, never mind winning Western Mass.

"What it takes in the weight room each day. ... It's new for me, showing them what it takes. That's the biggest thing with so many young freshmen."

Reach sports writer Akeem Glaspie at 413-496-6252 or @TheAkeemGlaspie.


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