By Laura Amato
The Holy Cross football team has been waiting months for the season to start and now that it’s here, the squad is anxious to shed the memories of last fall’s disappointments.
The Knights’ lack of experience showed on the field last season. Every game was a challenge, every play a new learning experience and, by the final whistle, there usually wasn’t much to celebrate.
The team is focused on making sure that changes this season.
Holy Cross returns a double-digit number of starters this fall, including a core of senior leadership that has been ready to get back on the gridiron since the calendar turned to 2016.
“It’s a tremendous boost because they all know each other,” Knights coach Tim Smith said. “They’ve all been through something together and they know they have a mission coming into this season. They understand what I want and what I expect. It’s been a tremendous offseason because of that.”
Holy Cross, like most teams in the city, spent several days this preseason attending an out-of-state camp, a jam-packed schedule that was as fun as it was exhausting.
But while most teams use camp as a multi-day bonding exercise, the Knights used it to fine tune their collective on-field approach and set the kind of team-wide tone that will help the squad contend for a title.
“Morning runs, morning practice, midday practice, night practice, film and then wake up and do it again,” senior linebacker Antwan Clay said of the squad’s camp schedule. “It’s fun though. It makes you go harder because all that hard work can’t go to waste.”
The Knights are hoping that that fall’s learning curve is a bit less steep than it was last season and the team is determined to find the endzone more frequently than it did in 2015.
Holy Cross averaged just over 12 points last season, but with the returning starters slated to return this fall, the Knights are confident they can rack up touchdowns.
“We’ve got one of the best coaching staffs in the league. We’re just hoping to get better,” senior guard Jason Mohr said. “We have a lot of starters returning and that definitely raises the confidence. All those juniors from last year are coming in as seniors now and have already started and they know what to do.”
In addition to a year of starting experience under their collective belts, this year’s group of Knights also has the added benefit of having played their entire career under Smith.
It’s a camaraderie that has created a bond few teams can accomplish—even after days at camp.
“For this particular team, I feel like this is my team,” Smith said. “I’ve had them from the beginning up until this point and my name is on it, my stamp is on it. The way I think and feel and my attitude towards the game is all on it. They understand what I expect.”
Holy Cross faces a big-time test right out of the gate, squaring off against cross-borough rival St. Francis Prep in the week-one opener.
But while last year’s Knights may have been nervous at the prospect of squaring off against a rival in the first matchup of the year, this season’s squad is simply determined to win.
“Dominate,” Clay said. “We’ve just got to dominate. Leave no doubt as to what we can do.”