Adam Shinder/Recorder staff Amsterdam High School football player Brian Cranker stretches at the start of Monday afternoon's practice in the town of Amsterdam.
Adam Shinder/Recorder staff Amsterdam defensive end Troy Wyszomirski, center, demonstrates a technique on tight end Marcus Pritchard, right, during Monday's practice in the town of Amsterdam. Looking on, back left, is assistant coach Scott Beatty.
By ADAM SHINDER
TOWN OF AMSTERDAM -- The T-shirts tell the whole story.
"Start at the Dome, finish at the Dome."
That was the motto plastered in gold lettering on the back of the shirts that were sported by a bulk of the Amsterdam High School football players and coaching staff Monday as the team opened its grueling two weeks of preseason practices leading to the Rugged Rams' Aug. 30 scrimmage with Schenectady.
The shirt signifies the singular goal the Rams have for 2014: They'll start the season at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse Sept. 6 when they face Section IX's Cornwall as part of the Kickoff Classic, which will be step one in a road they hope leads them back to the Dome for Thanksgiving weekend, when state championships will be decided.
"We know we have to work," senior quarterback Tony Isabel said. "We want to show all the fans. We want to bring back something to Amsterdam. We want to say we went there, came home with a win, not that we went there and got killed. We want to make it a memorable game for us."
Before they can do that, however, third-year head coach Doug Edick said he needed to see one thing in particular from the Rugged Rams during the next two weeks of preseason workouts.
"We need to see if we can tackle," Edick said. "We've got to be able to stop someone. Defense, defense, defense is gonna be the name of the game for this team. We've got to be able to hold opponents under 20. We've got to be able to stop teams. We have to be able to tackle. That's what I'm looking at."
The Rugged Rams had little trouble putting up points during their 5-4 2013 season, totaling 332 for the season and surpassing 40 points in all five of their wins. But, as prolific as they were on offense, the Rams struggled just as much on defense, allowing 338 points -- including 59 in their 33-point season-ending loss at the hands of eventual state champion Queensbury in the Section II Class A semifinals.
Correcting last year's defensive lapses is priority No. 1 for both Edick and his players.
"We do need to pick up our defense a little more, get a little more physical and a little more disciplined with that," senior linebacker Brady McGillin said. "Overall, we've just got to prepare to play hard."
Offensively, the Rams return many of the key cogs that made them one of Section II's most explosive units with 1,000-yard tailback Bryan Stanavich, leading receiver James Valentin and rangy tight end Marcus Pritchard all in the fold.
Leading the show will be the lanky senior Isabel, who backed up Julian Gallup under center while spending some time at wide receiver in 2013.
"I'm feeling confident. We have a lot of great, special guys around us," Isabel said. "All the skill position guys, we've been working hard all summer -- through 7-on-7, through chalk talk, through everything -- and I think it's gonna carry over into the season."
While the skill positions are well-stocked, Amsterdam will be going through some changes in the trenches with only Chad Pine returning as a starter along the offensive front. Who establishes themselves on the line -- as well as in the battle for the starting cornerback spots -- will play heavily on Edick's mind during the preseason.
"We've got some playmakers, so as long as our offensive line comes around -- which coach (Paul) Furman and coach (Pat) Liverio will do a great job with -- I think offensively we'll be OK," Edick said.
After coming through 7-on-7 workouts during the summer and a three-day team camp last week, Edick was encouraged with what he saw Monday.
"I think they came out pretty polished," he said. "You always do the 7-on-7 during the summer, we had pretty good turnouts for that. Hopefully, they're conditioned. We don't know that yet. But, they came excited, and it was a pretty good first day."
And the first day, according to the Rams' new starting quarterback, is always special.
"Everybody in Section II is out here, and you know that you have two weeks until your scrimmage, three weeks until your first game," Isabel said. "For us, at the Dome, it's special. It's what you do all the hard work for."
Contact ADAM SHINDER at firstname.lastname@example.org