ELBA – Oakfield-Alabama/Elba head coach Tyler Winter has done his best to meet the expectations of his group entering the 2022 season. But it’s been difficult, given the huge success of the Aggies football program over the past half-decade.
After a successful run in 8-a-side football, which included a long unbeaten streak and two Division V championships, OA/E returned to traditional play two seasons ago. Since their return, the Aggies have had a streak of remarkable campaigns, following a 5-2 Spring 2021 season that ended in the Divisional Semi-Finals with a run to the Class D title and the Premier League Semi-Final. State last fall.
After replacing former head coach Mike Cintorino, Winter guided the progression of what became one of the region’s top programs, going 17-3 in his two years at the helm. Aggies varsity team. And with plenty of talent returning to the roster in 2022, his team’s confidence remains at an all-time high.
“We have high expectations, as always,” said junior quarterback Bodie Hyde, who is returning for his third season at center. “We have worked a lot this off-season. Everyone has been working, just trying to improve and do better for the family of a team that we have. Everyone is focused, everyone is starting to lock in and gear up to get ready to tear down and defend the block.
Hyde was a driving force behind OA/E’s success last season, helping power an elite two-pronged offense with his success in both running and passing games. He had over 669 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns on 81 carries and threw for another 11 touchdowns and 719 60% yards as a sophomore. Hyde was also one of the team’s most outstanding players defensively, recording 70 tackles, including 12 for a loss, both of which were good for second-best on the team.
Aside from Hyde, Oakfield-Alabama/Elba has lost its top tackler, top running back and receiver from a season ago. The other top contributors to the Aggies last fall left the program due to graduating last spring. That leaves OA/E with big shoes to fill going into the ’22 campaign.
“It was tough to replace all the leaders we lost. But a group of young kids and a group of kids who have been there for a while all stepped up,” said senior offensive lineman TJ Andrews. “We’re ready to go. We’ve got kids in the weight room. We’ve got kids working hard here. It’s a lot better than we expected.”
Winter agreed with his player’s point of view, mentioning that this year’s squad, while a little inexperienced on paper, exceeded expectations to start training camp. The Aggies head coach believes a decision made by the coaching staff towards the end of last season has served the team’s young players well as they prepare to take on new roles for the next country.
“I think back to last year, to our JV team, to our schedule. Their last week on the program was a bye. So we brought in all the sophomores for the championship for the last week of the regular season,” Winter recalled. “So do the math. Leading up to (the state semi-final loss to) Tioga, it’s been six weeks since we had all the sophomores playing JV. They were with us practicing and getting college reps and college coaching. It was a second season, basically. So we’re noticing a lot of these sophomores and now juniors who are central to us. They are seasoned. It’s like they have a whole second season of JV ready to go. And they’re stepping up for us, and we’ve been very impressed with them so far.
Hyde, along with the team’s returning seniors including Andrews, Noah Currier, Connor Scott, Aiden Warner and Brayden Smith, helped an influx of talented players acclimate to new roles. Currier and Scott will help Hyde guide the Aggies’ backfield this season, while Warner and Smith will play up front and linebacker.
“Last year, once we finished the season, the JV kids were like, ‘We want to get into the weight room. We want to start lifting,” Smith said. “We raised all summer, all offseason we worked. Our line looks great. They’re fast, they’re strong and I think we replaced (last year’s guys) very well.
Currier and Scott will do their job behind three returning offensive linemen – Smith, Andrews and junior Angelo Penna – while Warner will serve as the team’s starting tight end. All five are contributors defensively.
“With new players, we just tell them to stay in the playbook and watch your positions when we move on offense and make sure they’re paying attention,” Scott said. “And when they’re there, we make sure they go 100 per cent and write the playbook and know the games.”
This sense of leadership and responsibility to the team allowed Winter to spread his message during the preseason. The Aggies head coach has maintained a level of confidence, which is vital on the football field, while keeping his team humble as they embark on their quest for back-to-back championships.
“The message since the offseason has been to be able to put 2021 in the past and really focus on this band and what this band is capable of. And write our own story,” Winter said. “So right now, at the beginning, you are expected to work hard. Work hard for the guy next to you, and let’s improve day by day and find out what kind of team we’re going to be.
Oakfield-Alabama/Elba will host Cardinal O’Hara for its season opener on Saturday, Sept. 3 at 1 p.m.
“It’s a great feeling. Fall is so special,” Hyde said. “It’s so exciting to come and play football. This sport is so different from any other sport you will play. The emotion. The hard work. The sacrifice. Everything you put into it and everything you get out of it. the end if you end up succeeding. It’s crazy. It’s definitely my favorite time of the year.