WATERTOWN — The headline in the sports section of the Watertown Daily Times on Nov. 4, 2000 read: “Massena Holds On To Victory, Red Raiders Survive Late Lapse To Advance To State Class A Tourney”.
For Watertown fans, the headline brings up the sour memory of a season coming to an end following a playoff loss to Massena. While they didn’t know it at the time, it also marked the end of Watertown’s football membership in the Northern Athletic Conference (Section 10). That following season the Cyclones began playing football games as a member of Section 3.
After 18, mostly fruitless, seasons of competing against Central New York’s best, the Cyclones are making their return to the NAC.
Long gone are the times of coach Kevin Wood, or quarterbacks Tyler Simser and Aaron Rivers. The 2019 Cyclones are coached by Kyle Lalonde for the sixth straight season and bring back a few of their starters from 2018, including quarterback Kalub Conway and running back Jaden Ramsey.
According to Lalonde, the players are thrilled about the move.
“They’re excited, Section 10 is a very difficult league, there is a lot of good teams up there,” Lalonde said. “We open the season with Gouverneur who had a really good season last year. So, it’s going to be a tough contest to start with but we’re really excited. It’s an opportunity to go back from where we came from being part of Section 10, 20 years ago. There is a lot of excitement around the school and the community of being back in Section 10.”
Watertown played football as a Section 10 school from 1986-2000, in that time they were 97-28.
Jude Converse, a junior running back/receiver, believes that the return to Section 10 could yield similar success for the program.
“I’m expecting that we’ll be a lot more successful in Section 10,” Converse said. “But it’s going to be a whole different challenge. They are different teams that we don’t know how they play, so we’re going to have to make adjustments and go off of that.”
Senior Jaden Ramsey expressed a similar sentiment.
“I am excited, I’m a little upset that I’m not in Section 3 anymore, but competition is competition, I’m ready to go,” Ramsey said.
Ramsey said that a few of the Cyclones were disappointed about the move at first but quickly came to the realization that it was not a demotion after the coaches explained the situation.
While the Cyclones adjust to new opponents, they’ll also have to adjust to life without tight end Nick Mallette.
After a junior season where he totaled 257 receiving yards and nine touchdowns, Mallette tore his ACL during lacrosse season and will miss his senior year for football.
“It’s not just about replacing Nick, It’s about spreading the ball around and having more impactful players,” Lalonde said. “We had planned on spreading the ball out more anyway, it just changes who is going to play where. We try to train our kids to play multiple different positions anyway.”
With the injury coming early in the spring season, Lalonde and his assistant coaches had plenty of time to prepare an offense that doesn’t include Mallette.
Lalonde is hoping that his senior quarterback will naturally improve from his first season as a starter in 2018. Conway has a list of goals for himself.
“Be a leader, help the team actually finish with a winning record, make the playoffs and hopefully sectionals,” Conway said.
Like Conway, Mallette wants to maintain his status as a leader on the Cyclones. While he won’t be able to do so on the field, he can still make his presence felt in other ways.
“I just have to keep the guys in line, discipline them and lead the guys as best as I can,” Mallette said. “I know I can’t get out there and do stuff with them much but I’m still talking to them.”
Mallette has to wear a black brace over his right knee, but he was still able to help out in drills during practice.