Port Allegany Reporter Argus
September 4, 2008
After his team finished last season with a 6-4 record and their third trip to the District 9 playoffs in four years, Gators head football coach Mike Bodamer expects to be in the mix again in 2008.
“We’re definitely one of the teams that could take the title this year,” he said. “There are six or seven that could actually win it, and I think we’re definitely one of them. If we don’t make the playoffs, it’s going to be a big disappointment. That’s our goal every year, just to get in the playoffs and see what happens.”
To do that, though, they’ll have to stay healthy. With just 25 names on the opening-weekend roster, “If we get a couple of injuries in our first 15 or 16, we’re going to be hurting,” Bodamer admitted.
The coaching staff, which includes Bob Haskins (offensive coordinator), Justin Bienkowski (line/junior varsity), Dan Eskeson (junior high), Nate Zitnik (junior high), and Bob Rankin (7th grade), is challenging the players to believe they can play with any team in the league.
“The last couple of years, we’ve been so close. When we lost to Coudersport and Curwensville, which were the two big guys, a lot of times, we just didn’t believe we could win,” Bodamer confessed. “Last year against Kane and Cameron County, same thing. I just don’t think they believed they could actually beat them. This year, we’re stressing that they can beat anybody – but they also can be beaten by anybody – just the idea of believing in themselves. That’s going to be a big part of it.”
Bryce Healy, Damen Brodhun, Brent Frontino, and Josh Guerrero have been chosen as team captains. While he expects a lot from those four players, Bodamer said of his team, “They’re all good kids. There are five seniors that are really good leaders, and most of the juniors have been playing since ninth grade. So they’ve been around, and they all get along well together.”
Josh Saltsman, Port’s only representative on the 2007 Big 30 All-Star team, is now playing for Clarion University. The Gators should still have a veteran presence on the offensive line, though, as Guerrero (who was named an Allegheny Mountain League All-Star last season), Brodhun, and Lucas Kline all started last season, and senior lettermen Frontino, Chris Fabish, and Zigmund Reichenbach also return.
However, the same isn’t true for the backfield, where QB/RB Derick Morey and leading rusher Nick Nichols both graduated. Sophomore Camrin Stuckey, who started the last few games of the 2007 season at quarterback, takes over the job full-time this year. Bodamer sees great potential in his young signal-caller. “That last Coudy game, in the playoffs, he really played well,” he said. “I think he realized he has the ability to play with anybody.”
Running backs Ryan Bodamer, Healy, and Paul Woods, along with fullback Seth Lowery, should earn the majority of the carries. Koty Milford and Zach Ramadhan start at receiver, but Healy and Woods are also expected to contribute in the passing game.
Bodamer is concerned about the backfield’s lack of experience – according to D9Sports.com statistics, Lowery led the returning ballcarriers with 72 yards in 2007 – but said, “we have some good kids there. We’re not blazing fast, but all of our kids, especially our offensive line, can move pretty well. I think our speed’s going to finally be an asset for us.”
Port fielded an above-average defense last season, allowing 15 or fewer points in half of its games. Guerrero and Lowery, who both earned multiple accolades for their play from regional media outlets, are back to anchor a solid linebacking corps. Reichenbach and Frontino lead a disruptive defensive line. Bodamer paced the team with three interceptions from his cornerback spot last year; he and Healy give the team veteran leadership in the secondary.
Coach Bodamer, entering his fourth year in the top job after several seasons as an assistant, believes the races for both the division and league titles are wide open: “Coudy still has the talent. I think we’ll be up there. Cameron County, they’re young, but their young kids are really good, so they’re still going to be in it. Smethport, they’ll be back, and the new coach at Otto-Eldred has those kids working hard.
“Down south, Curwensville’s going to be loaded; they’ll be tough. Kane lost some of their skill players, but they still have most of their lines, and Nicholson, they’re going to be tough, too. Johnsonburg, they don’t have numbers, but they have some good skill-position players who are going to cause some problems. And of course, three of our first four games are Johnsonburg, Curwensville, and Kane … so we’ll see what we have the first week.”
He concluded, “I think the kids realize that we can hang with anybody as long as we play hard.”