BY MICHAEL KELLY
CLIFTON PARK — Training camp opened Aug. 17 for the Shenendehowa football squad, giving the Plainsmen 19 days to prepare for their Sept. 5 season opener against Canisius at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse.
A year ago, Shenendehowa finished the season 11-1 and won its first Section II Class AA championship under the leadership of head coach Brian Clawson. Shenendehowa advanced in the state playoffs to the semifinals, where its 2014 season ended with a 20-19 overtime loss to Newburgh Free Academy.
From the first batch of practices this year at Brent T. Steuerwald Stadium, here are five things to know about this year’s Plainsmen:
WHAT TO REPLACE
Clawson’s squad lost a variety of key players and two-way starters from last year, from record-breaking stars such as quarterback Ryan VanGalen and wide receiver Jordan Zlogar to bruisers such as lineman Dan Busold and lineman/tight end Erik Kromer.
With so many departures, Clawson said very little will be settled for his team, starting position-wise, right away.
“In a situation like this year where you had such a strong senior class graduate, basically we don’t have anything set in stone yet,” Clawson said. “It’s that way across the board. We’re looking at the entire team at this point.”
At no position is that uncertainty more evident than quarterback, where senior Eric Morris and junior Mike Spulnick are competing for the starting job. Clawson said he has no timetable for picking one of the two to be his Week 1 starter.
“It all depends on how they perform,” Clawson said. “If one of them outperforms the other, it could be [right away], or the decision could be made during game week.”
Senior lineman/tight end Michael Gillooley said the Plainsmen are comfortable with both quarterbacks.
“They’ve both been great,” Gillooley said. “We know with either one of them that we can win any game. We know the coaches will make the right pick and we’ll be ready.”
Whichever player is selected to start at quarterback, he will be able to rely on an offensive line that is expected to be the team’s strongest attribute. Clawson said defensive coordinator Mark McQuade, who also coaches both the defensive and offensive lines, has the Plainsmen’s big men ready to roll.
“We’re really strong on the line,” Clawson said. “That’s an area, both on offense and defense, where the players have done some outstanding work in the offseason. Coach McQuade has done some new and different things with them to get ready, and they’ve shown off their athleticism and toughness in camp.”
Returning two-way starter Luke Mysliwy will anchor both the defensive and offensive line. He’s confident his coach is right about the prowess of his groups.
“The strength of this team is that we have the ability to bruise people up front,” Mysliwy said. “We need to be a quick, physical team.”
READY TO SHINE
Looking for a candidate to become the Plainsmen’s latest breakout star? Clawson said that distinction could belong to Vinny Gramuglia, a senior who will be the team’s No. 1 defensive back and also see time at wide receiver.
“He’s impressed throughout the offseason,” Clawson said of Gramuglia, who recorded two interception in a spot start in Shenendehowa’s win in the 2014 state quarterfinals against John Jay.
“To get a state playoff game under [his] belt and do well was big for him,” Clawson added.
This year, Gramuglia will be on the field all the time — and he’s ready for the challenge.
“I know I can step up and make big plays this year,” Gramuglia said. “I know I can handle my role and make the team better.”
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
Good luck finding a team with a tougher four-game introduction to the 2015 Section II football season than the Plainsmen.
Shenendehowa will open its season at the Carrier Dome against Canisius, which went undefeated and won the Catholic High School Athletic Association championship in 2014. Then, in succession, Shenendehowa plays host to both Shaker and CBA before heading to face archrival Saratoga Springs in Week 4.
Gramuglia said the Plainsmen are not backing down from what’s in front of them.
“If we beat those teams, we’ll know we can beat anyone we play,” he said.