OSWEGO — The Oswego High School varsity football team is back, and along with it has returned a sense of pride in rejuvenating the once-powerful program.
The Buccaneers kicked off Fall II football on March 25 for their first game since October 2018. Oswego was forced to cancel its 2019 season days before the opening game due to a lack of available players, and the state postponed the 2020 fall campaign due to COVID-19 concerns.
Oswego opened by debuting its state-of-the-art turf stadium, sporting new uniforms, and with first-year head coach, Jason Primrose, guiding a roster of 39 players entering this week for its largest in decades.
“We didn’t just get a new field, we got a new head coach, and a completely new culture, too, it’s like a completely different energy than the last two seasons I played,” said senior tight end and defensive lineman, Isaac Kangah. “It gives you more pride, something you want to play for.”
The Buccaneers have five seniors remaining from their last varsity team — Kangah, Caleb Ellis, Tyson Capetta, along with twin brothers, Jace and Trey Seguin — all of whom also played as freshmen in 2017 with most coming up through the area Pop Warner programs.
After waiting through two falls without their beloved sport, the veteran group was elated when receiving word last month that the long-discussed Fall II season was a go.
“We were set and ready to go last year and then, I think it was the day before our first game, we were told our season got shut down, so it was kind of heartbreaking,” Ellis said. “Then COVID came along, no one really knew what was going to happen, especially with high-risk sports like football, but as soon as we heard it was coming back, everyone was extremely excited.”
The five mainstays have been joined by a slew of eager newcomers all motivated to try the sport for various reasons. Primrose conduced a team meeting upon taking the head coaching position last spring, just a few weeks before schools shut down due to the coronavirus, which ended by inviting anyone who wanted to join him in the weight room.
He said that more than 30 kids followed him down the hall, a strong sign of things to come. Roughly a year later, they were finally cleared to start practice and topped 40 participants for the opening week.
“We went from having 20 kids on the roster and like 14 showing up our junior year, to having 40-plus kids come to the first practice (this year) and actually having a good team to build and work with, which was phenomenal to see,” Capetta said. “It’s just a great experience to have.”
Veterans and rookies alike were filled with adrenaline when they ran onto the field for the school’s first varsity game in two-plus years, soaking in the excitement of their new surroundings.
Oswego longtime assistant coach and former player, Mike Howard, said that program alumni also took great joy in launching the next phase of the team. He invited his father, also a former Oswego football player, to work the chains that night and said his gratification was evident as he looked over the scene.
The stands were at capacity with each athlete allowed two spectators to comply with county health mandates, but other fans lined the outside of the fence, cheering throughout to boost the excitement.
During the game, another assistant coach, Ryan Lavner, turned to Howard to comment on the buzz in the air compared to past seasons.
“It was amazing, the whole atmosphere and the people showing up to cheer us on, it was definitely a different feeling from any other sport I’ve played,” said first-year senior, Ben Hoefer. “This new field, everybody wants to play on it and that first game, everybody wanted to be the first team to play on the turf.”
Primrose believes the new turf stadium is one of the leading factors in the renewed interest in the sport at Oswego. The stadium was part of a $63 million capital project for renovations in the district. The new facility is highlighted by the turf surface, video scoreboard, new bleachers and lighting, among many other functional upgrades.
Players were nearly in awe when they first took to the turf for the second week of practice in March.
“I think at some points they’re like, star-struck, especially when they first walked out on the field because it was our first day hitting,” Primrose said. “I had to be like: ‘Guys. Go,’ I think they were just like, holy cow, this is for us. The stadium is so awesome.”
The Buccaneers suffered a 28-0 setback to Sandy Creek in their season opener to start a five-game slate. The following day, players were back on the field in high winds and heavy rain working to correct their mistakes. They spent more than an hour watching film and putting in the study time necessary to eventually elevate back among the Section 3 contenders.
“Being able to play a season with all the stuff going on right now, we’re all grateful to be on the field right now, and it was a great feeling (that first game), all the boys were pumped up before the game and we were ready to go,” said senior Adam Michalski, one of several players that joined in 2019 before the season was called off.
“This is one of the biggest teams we’ve had in a long time, and it’s great to see that we have this group of guys that we’re able to start the next era of Oswego football,” he added. “It’s a good group of people to start it off with.”