Michael Kelly/Recorder staff Trever Brownell prepares to snap the ball during an Aug. 20 practice in Canajoharie.
Michael Kelly/Recorder staff Jace Fox, with ball, runs from a pack of defenders during an Aug. 20 practice in Canajoharie.
Michael Kelly/Recorder staff Sam Deacon, left, blocks Jordan Brownell during an Aug. 20 practice in Canajoharie.
Buck Anderson is shown during Canajoharie practice.
By MICHAEL KELLY
CANAJOHARIE -- Coming off a 5-3 campaign from a year ago, the Canajoharie Cougars are looking to use last year's success as a base for achieving even more in 2014.
To turn that goal from dream to reality, the squad will need its veteran backfield to produce, a green offensive line to grow up fast and the Cougars' defense to stand tall.
The first step toward making sure all those boxes are checked has been a successful one. The Cougars' preseason has been an effective one, helped along by a strong summer of team workouts.
"Everyone has improved a lot," said junior quarterback Jace Fox. "Over the summer, you could definitely see the growth in everyone."
Fox leads a backfield of returning contributors from 2013. Senior fullback Nathan Ferguson should provide a steady presence for Canajoharie with his blocking and rushing ability, while senior tailback Rob Clouthier returns after a strong finish to 2013.
"We're very sharp. We already have multiple offense sets in, multiple plays in," said Ferguson, a returning captain. "But, of course, there's always little things that we need to tighten up."
The top priority for the Cougars is to make sure a revamped offensive line is ready for the season. Players such as seniors Trever Brownell and Sam Deacon, and sophomore John O'Connor bring ample size to the unit and the potential is there for the group to be special.
"We're very inexperienced at the offensive line, but we do have some big kids there, too," Sullivan said.
In comparing the jump from the junior varsity to the varsity level, Sullivan looked to players moving from the collegiate ranks to the NFL. As he put it, a player like Johnny Manziel can dominate in college football, but will need to retool his game to deal with the speed and physicality of the higher level.
"And that's most definitely true going from JV to varsity," said Sullivan, whose program has roughly 35 players between its JV and varsity squads. "Kids can play in the JV games, but, until they get that varsity experience, it's a big difference."
"Because we have a young offensive line, we need to improve there," said Clouthier. "They need to get comfortable... (but) we have a lot of experience (elsewhere), so it will be good."
While the offense has been able to rifle through learning its plays, the Cougars seemed equally enthused with how their defense has come along this camp.
"Personnel-wise, we're pretty sound," said Ferguson, a linebacker. "We're in a good position with that."
Clouthier and Ferguson both said the primary goal is to make it back to sectionals -- the Cougars lost in the first round in 2013 -- but that working through the preseason was important, for now, than setting benchmarks for future achievement. That's likely a good tact to take for any team in Section II Class D, which moves to a one-division format for 2014 that will only allow four teams into the postseason.
Sullivan said he expects the newly combined Cambridge-Salem squad to be a top contender and for Rensselaer to be tough, but said that it won't surprise him if another team or two jumps up, especially given the nature of small-school football.
"In the Ds, it can flip because just two (standout) kids can make such a big difference," he said.
"Once the season gets started, we'll know (who is good), but we can't look past anyone," Sullivan finished.
Canajoharie football head coach Ken Sullivanwatches his team practice.