By ADAM SHINDER
JOHNSTOWN -- Two years ago, the Johnstown High School football team hit a serious low point. Mired in a seasons-long losing streak and with numbers dwindling, on Sept. 20, 2012 head coach Matt Benton and JHS administration made the decision to forfeit the final four games of their season and attempt to rebuild.
The recovery started in 2013, when the Sir Bills won four of their final six games to finish a respectable 4-5. This year's senior class is determined to take the foundation laid a year ago and continue Johnstown's rise out of what had been an extended stay in the lower depths of Section II football.
"This is our year," said quarterback Stephen Forker. "We've been looking forward to it for years."
Johnstown's senior players this fall were nearly all members of the JV team two years ago that had to watch as their varsity compatriots sat on the sidelines for the final month of the regular season. This summer, however, the numbers are back up to a respectable level -- at both varsity and JV -- and the players who've been in the fold since their modified football days five years ago have impressed Benton and his staff with their work ethic.
"A lot of programs come through phases when it comes to numbers," Benton said. "We've been watching these kids come through the program since modified, and they've stuck it out and they've stayed with it. They've got a positive attitude, and they're working hard."
For Benton, it's especially rewarding to be coaching a group of seniors that has come through the ranks together and didn't throw in the towel as the Sir Bills program went through its rough patches. From what he's seen in offseason work and preseason practice, this year's team should reap the rewards of persevering through those struggles.
"It's nice to have seniors that've been playing football since they were little," he said. "We have some newcomers that have come in that are very athletic as well who are seniors. They're stepping it up and finally playing at the level we've been looking forward to."
In fact, most of this year's seniors can point to the success they had on the JV team in 2012 as the point where they knew that the 2014 season would have potential to be special.
"This is the year that everybody's been waiting for, I guess," said fullback Marshall Manchester. "The coaches said they've been waiting since we were in modified for this team to come up. Two years ago on JV, we had a really good team."
The return to varsity football in 2013 started out rough for the Sir Bills, who lost their first three games by a combined score of 84-20 before rebounding to score 35 or more points in each of their four wins and coming up 12 points short of picking up a fifth win against Schuylerville.
This season, the returning players -- with the last vestiges of the 2012 team gone to graduation -- see themselves taking the next step.
"We were looking forward to last year, and it turned out pretty good," Forker said. "But, we knew the group we had coming in this year would be even better than last year, because we're more dedicated. We've got a lot of starting players back, and we didn't lose much."
Benton's seen the dedication program-wide, as after low numbers and injuries left the Sir Bills with just 13 healthy varsity players when the decision was made to cancel the rest of the 2012 season, participation is up in the Johnstown camp. More than two dozen players have been working out with the varsity squad, and JV depth is on the rise as well.
"Our numbers our up. These are probably the best numbers we've had in the program in a while, varsity-wise, and JV's starting to come up," the fifth-year head coach said.
Put it all together, and the Sir Bills' seniors believe they've got a pretty good formula to bring Johnstown football back after a few years with their shoulders stuck to the mat.
"This is our senior year. For us, it's a year that we've been waiting for our whole lives, but in a Johnstown sense, yeah, for us it's time to make a comeback and bounce back," said senior linebacker Marino Fabozzi.
"We've been waiting for this forever, and we have a solid team this year," Manchester added. "Hopefully, we'll win a bunch of games and bring it back."
And, to complete the Lazarus comparison, Manchester ended his assessment of the Sir Bills' revival with two simple words.
Contact ADAM SHINDER at firstname.lastname@example.org