PENDLETON — The last four seasons of Starpoint football have been some of the best the school has ever seen — four years and four Class A division titles.
Head coach Al Cavagnaro knows just how important those teams were for the future of Spartans football. With the common analogy of building up a house, he thought those previous groups were much more than the foundational component to the team's "home."
"Well to be honest with you I think the foundation was already there," Cavagnaro said. "They put up the walls. ... The kids understand that football's year-round now and the one thing about us at Starpoint, whenever I've called practice I get 100% participation. They're all here, unless there's a specific reason, they come to everything.
"They know what it takes to win here. My coaches have done a great job of building that foundation, along with the kids, and now they just know they don't want to be the class that doesn't keep it going."
Cavagnaro talked about how his teams always aspired to be in the position that the late John Faller's Sweet Home teams were during the late 2000s and early 2010s, dominating Class A and Section VI football as a whole. What many of those staffs shared with Cavagnaro was that same sentiment; what often drove those teams was the urge to stay on top and not be that "let down" class.
The Spartans have now become one of those "cream of the crop" teams in Class A that Sweet Home was not too long ago. Cavagnaro shared one element that he attributes to the team's now established culture.
"The other thing that's great is the competition is good here," Cavagnaro said. "For years we didn't have that, we didn't have that type of competition. Now they know they have to work. If they don't work, they're not gonna play."
When asked about potentially reaching the 100-win mark this season — Cavagnaro currently sits at 95 career wins — he quickly took the blame for all the losses he's compiled, adding that "the kids win the games" and that he hopes the kids win five or more games not for his own personal record, but more so for themselves as players.
The team is littered with youthful talent and Cavagnaro believes the way the group regiments itself will be key to how far it will go in trying to go for a fifth straight divisional crown.
"I just think when you're young it's discipline. It's taking those offside penalties, our motion penalties (away)," he said.
"When you're young, (just remember) you need 10 yards. If you're going 15 and 20, you're gonna struggle. So I think for us if we're gonna win it again, we're gonna need success early so that they realize that they can do it. We know we can do it, as a staff we know we're good and we had a great summer."
Out of all the players lost from last year's 7-2 squad, one that may surely be the toughest to replace is former first-team All-Western New York quarterback Aaron Chase. Before walking-on the football team at the University at Buffalo this summer, Chase rewrote the Starpoint football record books — as a four-year starter, he broke seven school records, which include completions in a season (192), total touchdowns in a season (40) and passing yards in a season (3,053).
They also graduated Matt Spina, Brendan Gawel, Robert Roetzer, Sam Hallack and Max Bowden, who joined Chase as a fellow walk-on with the Bulls.
The reigns of the Spartans' offense will now be handed over to sophomore QB Carson Marcus. His work for the season dates all the way back to January before the winter passing leagues, and he was even able to train with new Starpoint basketball head coach Gil Licata's son, former UB QB Joe, in his annual passing camp as well.
For Marcus, however, he should have the talent around him to not have to feel like he has to put the entire team on his back.
He will have an All-WNY receiver in Joe Carlson back in the mix, after he had a strong 2018 campaign with 59 receptions, 788 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. Cavagnaro also talked about Cole Harrington (who will be back at inside linebacker), Dave Meyer and Tommy Fratello (who will hold things down up front as three-year starters with the offensive line), potentially a break-out season from tight end Josh Brooks and two-way starter Jacob Dean.
Dean will play on both sides of the ball as a slot receiver and linebacker. He will lean on his experience as one of the team's veteran players to help bring along his quarterback and other young players throughout the roster.
"I'm looking to bring intensity, just bring everybody else up and (I) have the football knowledge, the experience on the field to direct other people," Dean said. "You've gotta bring (Marcus') confidence up. You can't bash him ... You've gotta keep his confidence up."
Cavagnaro also talked about Aidan Davis, who should bring some intensity to the defense as a box-safety and outside linebacker. But Cavagnaro also expects him to "carry the load" as the team's lead tailback.
This year will bring on a new position of leadership for Davis and he is looking forward to the opportunity.
"I'm excited for it. It's our year to step up and show that we're gonna do something as a senior class and go out doing something big," Davis said.
"(Winning our fifth straight division title would) be huge for us. We just want to keep carrying on the success that we've had the last couple of years. Prove to everybody that we can play (and) just keep winning."
For more from sports reporter Khari Demos, follow him on Twitter @riri_demos