For years, the Ithaca High School football team was rooted to the bottom of the standings and a far cry from postseason contention. That all changed in 2021.
The Little Red broke two droughts last season: their first divisional win since 2010 and their first playoff appearance since 2013. As an alum of Ithaca High, head coach Clarence Welch III knows better than most how much ending those streaks meant to the program.
“It’s big for our kids mainly because for a long time, we were lacking in that [success],” Welch said. “It created an excitement not only within our program but within our school community as well because a lot of our kids play other sports, and they’re used to having success against some of the same kids we play in football, lacrosse, basketball and baseball. To have that happen within our football program is huge, and I think we’re benefiting by getting more athletes out to create more excitement and passion.”
While the Little Red’s postseason run lasted just one game after falling to Elmira 44-30 in the Section IV Class AA semifinals, the experience was worthwhile for all those involved.
“It was a slow start to the game,” Welch said. “We go into halftime down, momentum wasn’t on our side, and the kids came back in the second half and showed resiliency and the fight back to put themselves in a position of almost winning. Ithaca High School football hasn’t seen that in a very long time. Back when I played, we were competitive and we were right there with some of those programs. To see that resiliency, to see that competitiveness and enthusiasm was awesome.”
Entering the 2022 campaign, Ithaca High will have a new look under center. Starting quarterback Chase Sposito graduated and is now part of the Ithaca College football team as a defensive back, while backup Dominic Nicholas — the son of Little Red offensive coordinator John Nicholas — is off to prep school this year. The quarterback battle will be between juniors Ethan Husick and Rohan Nunn-Makepeace. Despite the change in personnel, don’t expect much of a difference in the Little Red offense.
“We try to base it off of what our quarterbacks can do,” Welch said. “So, that’s what would work to their favors as athletes and to put them in a good position to make good decisions. So, it’ll be shaped around really what happens in our scrimmage, going forward, what we do with the offense. But we don’t want to change what we do, in terms of what we input and what we install and what we practice in practice every day.”
The Little Red retain two key juniors that have excelled on both sides of the ball: wide receiver/defensive back Daniel Parker and running back/linebacker Nicholas Talbot. They’ll be joined by a host of new players, ranging from those making the step up from modified to varsity football, to others that are sophomores and juniors who haven’t played in a few years.
Although Welch said practices started off a little slow because of all the fresh faces, they’ve steadily picked up the pace.
“I think because of our youth a lot of people will say, ‘Oh, the inexperience and the youth will be a problem,’” Welch said. “I just got done telling the kids today that youth doesn’t mean that you can’t work hard. Youth doesn’t mean that you can’t be successful, right? If you all are good athletes, if you come to practice every day to get in your playbooks and study, and you show your passion and enthusiasm for the sport, everything else will play on the field. So, we’ve enjoyed that every day this preseason so far. And so far, so good. They’re starting to understand the concepts and the minor details and in the bigger scheme, as well.”
The Little Red kick off their season away to Elmira Sept. 9 in a rematch of last season’s playoff game. After rain and thunder forced the team to head indoors during a practice last week, Welch and the rest of the coaching staff came prepared.
“We were planning to watch part of that game so that the kids who are new to the program could see that team was against Elmira,” Welch said. “I know, for myself and the staff, we’re super excited to see what’s going to happen in that game. Once we show the film, and the kids see the energy and the enthusiasm and the passion and the resiliency that I mentioned, hopefully they’ll get that same feeling and take it to them.”
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