My schedule yesterday got a little screwed up. The plan was to get to Rye and Stepinac, and then hit Croton-Harmon today to complete my tour of all seven football teams playing this weekend. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out like that.
After I left Rye, I got called to do another assignment and had to skip Stepinac. And since I had to go to Peekskill early this afternoon for a basketball photo and story — and Croton was practicing conveniently nearby at Putnam Valley — Stepinac got cut out of the equation. My apologies.
Here’s a quick briefing on what I saw and heard at Rye (Croton is coming later):
Visiting practice at Rye this season has been an enjoyable experience. In years past, I probably wouldn’t say that without some hesitation.
The reason being is that the mood at Rye is always upbeat. Croton was that way today, too. But that’s because it’s Croton’s first time in the state tournament and those players and coaches know appreciate the ride because it doesn’t come around very often.
At Rye in years past, the players have always been loose. Coach Dino Garr, however, rarely was. He crammed more into a two-hour practice than any coach I’ve ever seen and did it with his head down and eyes forward. I’ve said in the past that I could be standing there with my hair on fire and he wouldn’t notice. But I think the maturity and overall talent of this Rye team has changed him. Even he admitted it yesterday. Every few years a special group comes along and this one is definitely special, not just in how good they are but how they go about their business.
You’d expect, after this many years, for the Rye players to strut around and be cocky about their success. This group really isn’t like that, and you have to respect it. When I was 17, I was pretty cocky and had no real reason to be. Rye does but, at least from what I see, they play it pretty cool.
Having a guy like Kyle Ramalho around certainly helps. The level of respect the Garnet players have for him has really hit me in the past few weeks. When I first interviewed Kyle three years ago, I got wide smile and mostly one- or two-word responses. Now, it’s almost like he’s a grown-up on the most grown-up team in the area. He’s a fourth-year player, who saw significant time as a freshman running the ball, and is the unquestioned leader.
Last night I emailed Rye center Ryan Rossi, blogger extraordinaire, for help on a story I wrote for tomorrow’s Journal News on the dynamic of Kyle Ramalho and Cole McCormack. Here’s what Rossi wrote back:
“He has gray hair in his beard, a tattoo, and a voice like Zeus. I call him ‘Little guy,’ but he’s the one that should be playing on the line. He’s 220; I am almost 185. How did that work out? The first time I saw him I asked: ‘Why is that coach suiting up?’ Even though he’s a grandfather, he’s a great player and an even better leader.”
Funny stuff. But it’s also another sign of the personality of this team.
Garr and I spoke on the sideline before practice for about 20 minutes, which in Garr-time is just under 4 hours. I asked him about Hudson Falls and immediately he scowled at me. He pointed out that I consistently wave off the teams Rye plays in the state tournament when he feels his team is up against a serious challenge. And he’s right. I do and then they go out and win by four touchdowns.
But I can understand where he’s coming from. I think we’ve all become to take what Rye has done these past six years for granted. Since when is winning a state championship the “goal” for any team? Well, at Rye it was this season despite all that they lost. The expectations are high for the Garnets and it sometimes blurs what they’ve accomplished. It’s not longer Rye can win; it’s Rye should win. That’s not really fair.
Can the Garnets be tripped up on Saturday? I’ve been convinced by many people that it’s definitely possible. It’s not that this Rye team is over-hyped. It’s that Hudson Falls is pretty darn good, based on people I’ve spoke to around Rye and upstate. This is a special group, led by a superb back in Joe McMurry. No one player has beat Rye these past six years. But there’s a chance they haven’t faced a back like McMurry combined with a line as big as Hudson Falls.
It should be a great game on Saturday. And in the event the Garnets do win by four touchdowns, try to appreciate it instead of waving it off like we’ve done for so long.