If the White Plains High School football team is going to improve on its 5-4 record from last year, it’ll most likely be a lot of new faces leading the charge.
The Tigers had 20 seniors graduate from last year's team, about 70-75 percent of them starters, according to Head Coach Michael Stevens. But Stevens sees the influx of new and young players, especially thanks to how his veterans are treating them.
“The seniors and captains have been great with the younger guys,” he said. “The camaraderie is better this year than I can remember it being the last few years. They’re making the guys feel welcome and like part of the team. And not only that, they’re holding them to higher standards than young players sometimes get held to.”
The captains are well aware of their role on such a young team.
“For us to have a good year, we have to stay together and execute,” said fullback Timmy Hodges, one of the team captains. “Everyone needs to put their ego aside and just work hard.”
So far, Stevens has seen just that.
“It doesn’t matter if a senior makes a play or a sophomore makes a play,” he said. “Everyone’s cheering whenever someone does something good.”
Captains Robby Lorden, an offensive guard and tackle, and Luke Puff, a strong safety, both said it’s important to work with the younger guys.
“If they make a mistake, we need to show them the proper way to do it,” Puff said. “We’re trying to prepare them for the speed of the game at this level. The game’s a lot faster at varsity than junior varsity.”
The captains have already seen improvements in the younger players during the first week or so of practice.
“We’re just all out here all day every day getting after it,” said running back Ari Shamery, another captain.
But White Plains’ work hasn’t been all outside so far. Stevens said a new addition to the team’s training this year is going inside to work in the school’s pool.
“We have them do some running in the water and some dynamic stretching,” he said. “It’s nice and helps them get their legs back under them a bit.”
While the Tigers offense has hitorically relied mostly on the ground game, they went to the air a little more often a year ago. Coming into this season, players say they aren't sure what style their offense will take just yet.
“We’re just going to go with what works," Lorden said. “If we run one play nine times in a row and it works, then that’s what we’ll go with.”
On defense, however, the Tigers know the plan.
“We just want 11 heads going for the ball every time, that's White Plains defense,” Puff said.
The Tigers season kicks off Sept. 8 at Harrison. Stevens knows the team has a tough schedule this year—including games against New Rochelle, Scarsdale, John Jay-East Fishkill, North Rockland and Clarkstown North—but he said the team can’t worry about the entire schedule each week.
The players are taking his advice.
“If we want to reach our goals of improving and winning the section, we can only take it game-by-game,” Hodges said. “Right now, I don’t even know who we play in our second game.”