SARANAC LAKE - With just one starter back from last year's state Class C semfinalist team, there will be loads of new faces in the lineup when Saranac Lake steps on the football field this season.
But one thing always seems to stay the same each fall when it comes to Red Storm football. Saranac Lake is heading into the season looking for another championship.
With a mix of seniors who saw plenty of action as backups in 2010 and players moving up from last season's unbeaten junior varsity team, the Red Storm are expecting to be in the hunt for a second straight sectional title.
The Saranac Lake football team will have to replace 21 of 22 starters from last year’s team.
"People around the league realize we lost 21 out of 22 starters from last season, and we're just fine with that," said second-year Red Storm head coach Eric Bennett. "We have a young team this year, but in the group of kids we have, there are a lot of nice athletes.
"After the success we had last year, I think our kids are coming into this season with a bit of a chip on their shoulder," Bennett continued. "And I don't mean that in a negative way. The kids want to do well. They want to succeed for themselves and for their community."
After having only AuSable Valley and Seton Catholic as Class C opponents in Section VII a year ago, it will be more of challenge for the Red Storm to win a sectional title this time around. Seton Catholic is gone after recently dropping its football program, and the Patriots are back as a Class C team. But Canton and Ogdensburg are also in the mix after competing in Class B in 2010.
Senior Lucas Atkinson is the lone returning starter back with Saranac Lake, and on offense, he moves from his center a year ago to right guard.
Atkinson, a co-captain along with Kyle Dora, will also anchor Saranac Lake's defense at middle linebacker. Dora, a hard-hitting senior, will line up at fullback and outside linebacker.
Junior Matt Phelan will be the Red Storm's starting quarterback, and will be joined in the backfield by Dora and senior running back Ethan Barge.
Two receivers expected to be keys in the offensive game plan are senior Devin Darrah and junior Kevin Morgan. The pair are also listed as defensive starters at cornerback and will be joined in the secondary with Mike Tuthill at safety.
Senior Pat Woodward is Saranac Lake's starting center, and will be joined in the trenches with seniors Adam Cross and Idriz Cecunjanin and junior Taylor Pellerin.
Cecunjanin will also be kicking for the Red Storm this fall.
A year ago, Saranac Lake fielded a rare team that rolled up 10 straight victories before losing its only game of the season at Kingston to a Bronxville Broncos team that went on to win the state Class C title. Even though the Red Storm have hopes of reaching the state postseason round, Bennett said achieving other goals comes first.
"Last year, we had pure athletes that helped make up for some mistakes made by our rookie coaching staff," Bennett said. "That was one of those groups that you have once every five or six years. That's what we lost. What we have is a great group of young men.
"Our No. 1 goal, our stress is our sense of being a team," Bennett continued. "We want to establish ourselves as a team, and I think we've done that. The kids are helping and pushing each other. Our No. 2 goal is winning that first game."