Red Storm players taking it to the next level
SARANAC LAKE — When it comes to high school football in the North Country, seeing three seniors from the same team move on to play the game at the college level is a pretty rare occurrence.
That, however, is the case for last fall’s Saranac Lake Red Storm, a team that battled through adversity and low numbers to bring a sectional banner back to the school after a two-year drought.
Seven players from Saranac Lake’s Section VII, Class C championship squad were honored as Champlain Valley Athletic Conference all-stars, and three of them — Patrick Alberga, Sean Sanford and Ben Munn — plan to continue their football careers in college.
When it comes to sweeping postseason honors, Alberga came about as close as a player could get. A three-year varsity starter, Alberga was the CVAC’s dominant player in the trenches on both sides of the ball.
As one half of the Red Storm’s bookend defensive ends, Alberga was honored as the league’s defensive player of the year, as well as both a CVAC first-team defensive and offensive lineman. The 6-4, 250-pounder also received recognition at the state level as a New York small school second-team defensive lineman.
Red Storm head coach Eric Bennett described Alberga as a force who could wind up playing anywhere from a college Division I walk-on to an immediate impact player on a Division III squad.
“Patrick did a heck of a job controlling the edge on offense to setting it on defense. He’s a big man with great closing speed. His range is incredible and he has great personal strength,” Bennett said. “He was our leader in the weight room and on the field, he’s never afraid to speak his mind, and obviously, he’s going to be missed.”
Senior Sean Sanford made up the other half of Saranac Lake’s stellar defensive end duo. Sanford was named a CVAC first-team defensive lineman and a second-team selection on the offensive line.
Bennett recalled that as a junior, Sanford told him he was going to be named an all-league player during his final season of high school football. Next fall, Sanford plans to attend Norwich University in Vermont as a member of the Cadets NCAA Division III football team.
“I remember him distinctly telling me he was going to work so hard that I’m going to make make the league make me an all-star,” Bennett said. “You’re not going to find a more coachable kid. Sean was a rangey player who we could count on.”
Senior Ben Munn was Saranac Lake’s third CVAC first-team defensive player, earning that recognition at outside linebacker, despite playing with a nagging injury late in the season. Fortunately, the two-way starter got healthy for Saranac Lake’s playoff run. Although Munn was honored by the league as a defensive standout, he also had a major impact running the ball, an effort that included a combined 269 rushing yards during the Red Storm’s sectional semifinal and championship game victories.
Munn, a three-sport standout athlete, plans on taking his game to the next level as a member of the St. Lawrence University football team.
“Ben had the ability to cover the entire the wide side of the field and shut down screen games and outside runs,” Bennett said. “He was really committed to the weight room. Ben is one talented athlete, and once we got him back healthy late in the season, he was terror out there who made it difficult for opposing teams on both sides of the ball.”
Junior Rhett Darrah was Saranac Lake’s fourth player named a CVAC first-team selection, earning that spot at quarterback. Last fall was Darrah’s third-season starting on varsity. As a freshman, Darrah he started in Saranac Lake’s defensive secondary and was the back-up quarterback. He took over the starting quarterback role as a sophomore and Bennett said he made a major progression playing the position as a junior.
Darrah was a major dual threat throwing and running the football. He led Section VII in passing yards with 1,488 yards. He completed 84-of-164 attempts, threw 11 touchdown passes and was intercepted eight times. Darrah was the league’s fourth-leading ground gainer with 508 yards on 112 carries and ran for five touchdowns in Saranac Lake’s option-oriented offense.
“In year two of our system, Rhett really found his groove,” Bennett said. “He has a tremendous arm and is accurate. He’s talented, he’s a gritty player, and he also became a really selfless player at the end of the year. He did whatever he could for the sake of the team. Winning was more important that stats.”
Another all-CVAC player who will be back with the team next season is junior David Warner. A two-way starter at receiver and defensive back, Warner was actually a CVAC special teams selection as the league’s second-team punter. A memorable punt Warner delivered was when the Red Storm was taking on two-time defending Class C champion Saranac Central. In that game, Warner boomed a punt that covered nearly 80 yards and helped turn the Red Storm’s fortunes in a 21-15 victory over the Chiefs.
“I’ll never forget that kick. It was a real game-changer,” Bennett said. “I’m expecting David Warner to be a key two-way player for us next season.”
Warner was ranked seventh in the league in receiving, finishing the 2019 season with 21 catches for 359 yards.
Honorable mention selection players Jeff LaVair and Logan Brown round out Saranac Lake’s group of 2091 CVAC all-stars. Both seniors, LaVair and Brown turned in major contributions on both sides of the line.
LaVair proved a valuable asset at receiver and at cornerback, and Bennett said that since LaVair was such an intelligent football player, he earned the nickname “Coach LaVair.”
“Jeff has great brains when it comes to knowing the game. He understood the whole process,” Bennett said. “He made some huge catches for us all season long, and on defense, he was truly a lock-down cornerback.”
LaVair finished eighth in Section VII in receiving, hauling in 20 catches for 352 yards and four touchdowns.
Brown made his impact running the football and at linebacker, and late in the season, he stepped up as a leading blocker in the Red Storm’s option offense. When it comes to banging the football into the end zone on runs close to the goal-line, Brown was close to unstoppable. He was the league’s fourth-leading scorer with 60 points on nine touchdown runs and a pair of two-point conversions.
“Logan was right there with everybody else as a hard-working member of our team that really made a commitment to football,” Bennett said. “He was a solid short-side linebacker for us, and what really stood out to me was what he did for the team. Late in the season, we moved him away from running the football a bit to being a lead blocker. He gladly excepted the role and got the job done.”
“I feel like the common thread running through all of our all-stars was their great work ethic combined with a true desire to excel and play their best. Competing with such a limited roster throughout the season, these guys were really inspiring. It wore off on the rest of the team.”
In addition to seven players receiving CVAC post-season recognition, Bennett was honored as well, being named the league’s coach of the year.
“It’s cool when you are recognized by your peers in the CVAC,” Bennett said. “I think it was awesome to get back on top as a sectional champion. I just think it shows how hard we worked to rebound from being uncharacteristically down for two year. It shows how united we were as a coaching staff and a group of young players to reach our goal.”