POTSDAM — A veteran Potsdam football team gives head coach Jim Kirka a reason to look forward to the 2019 Northern Athletic Conference season.
“We have a lot of starters on both sides of the ball coming back. We had quite a young team last year but we were in every game,” said Kirka, who is entering his 29th year coaching the Sandstoners. “We gained a lot of valuable experience and the kids are pretty excited about this season.”
“Just being more experienced and having a good core of players coming back is going to make us a better team,” he added. “So, I’d have to say that I’m pretty optimistic about our season.”
While the majority of last year’s team returns in a bid to improve on the 4-5 record posted last fall, low numbers will again force most of the players to play both ways.
“We’re probably going to dress in the low 20s for games but that’s something that we’ve sort of gotten used to by now,” Kirka said. “We really can’t afford any injuries.”
Offensively, the Sandstoners feature one of the leading ball carriers in the NAC in third-year junior running back Will Varney, who has already churned out well over 1,000 yards rushing in each of his first two seasons. Returning to orchestrate the double-wing offense this fall at quarterback is third-year junior Zach Kirka, who took over the position last season. Also expected to contribute more to the running game are juniors Logan McCargar and Bobby Voss, one of several Norwood-Norfolk Central student-athletes on the Potsdam roster once again this fall.
“We’re still going to look to run the ball primarily but we told the kids that we are going to try to open it up a little more this season,” Kirka said. “We have passing plays and we work on our passing game all the time but it just hasn’t fallen into place for us. Maybe that will change this year?”
The junior-oriented backfield is operating behind a line made up of veteran seniors that includes center Brendan Villnave, the sibling duo of Nate and Tyler Green at guard, Steve McCargar and KJ Sapp at tackle.
“Having the entire line back is definitely a big plus for us,” Kirka said.
Other key returnees for the Sandstoners are seniors Dustin Agen (linebacker) and Carter Newcombe (lineman) along with juniors Matt Phippen (defensive back) and Anthony Zoanetti (linebacker). Newcomers expected to make an impact include juniors Gabe Matthis (lineman), Michael Hewey (defensive line, tight end) and Will Roda (defensive back, wide receiver) along with senior kicker Nolan Anderson.
“Our kicking game has been a problem but Nolan has been working on it all summer and we’re going to give it a try. If it works, we’ll stick with it,” Kirka said.
The Sandstoners enter the 2019 season as the defending Section 10 Class B champion after outlasting Malone 2-0 on a fourth-quarter safety in last year’s final. They are the only two Class B schools again this season.
Potsdam is scheduled to open the NAC campaign on Sept. 6 at home against St. Lawrence Central.
“In our section, whichever team executes the best has a chance to win every game,” Kirka said. “Last year, the games we lost were the ones where we made too many mistakes. Hopefully, we’ve learned from that.”