By Jake Mendel, The Berkshire Eagle
PITTSFIELD — The Taconic Braves found themselves in the Western Massachusetts D-VII tournament last season after a truly up-and- down campaign. Taconic fell to Wahconah 48-0 in the D-VII semifinals, however they finished the season with a plus-eight point differential.
“We had some ups and downs last season,” seventh-year coach Jim Ziter said. “We would win one big one and then lose one big one. We had some seniors, but in reality we were a young team.”
The sky was the limit after a 74-0 thrashing over Easthampton in week one, but the Braves walked the line of .500 for most of the season, before finishing with a record of 4-6.
“Last season was about trying to get as a team,” Ziter said, “but we won enough to get into the tournament.”
While there were some lows, there were more than enough highs for this current group of Braves to buy into their potential, especially with another year of experience. With big wins of 74, 46, 38 and 20, Taconic has some unfinished business.
“The motto they wanted this year was unfinished business,” Ziter said. “They don’t want to just make the tournament this year. It is a great group of kids and they seem to be a cohesive group so far.”
Despite losing Matt Smith and Isaiah Hartman-Caesar to graduation, Billy Ellis and Luke Whitehouse are just a few of the names looking to help the Braves win in the trenches.
“Right now it is the biggest offensive line I have ever had here,” Ziter said of the possibility of starting an offensive line with five players weighing over 200 pounds. “You hear everywhere, it starts with your offensive and defensive line. Especially here in Berkshire County where you run a lot.”
However, the Braves won’t know who will get the starting nod until just days before the regular season begins.
“Everyone knows they don’t have a job yet,” Ziter said. “I just want them getting better every day. You have to earn your job each week and we don’t want them to get comfortable, that is big for us.”
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There is a quarterback battle brewing between senior Cole Lander and junior Ian Hadsell.
Joining them in the backfield is a handful of running backs including veterans Dylan Burke, Haywood Eurquhart, Nick Hall and Marquise Saunders.
Youngsters Anthony Johnson and Warren Dews will help fill out the depth in the backfield.
“I like to have six running backs in rotation,” Ziter added, “guys really need those breaks to play at a high level.”
The core four of Burke, Eurquhart, Hall and Saunders will also lead the Braves defensively as the linebacking unit.
Taconic has joint practices planned with Mount Anthony and Wahconah as they prepare for the regular season opener on Sept. 6 against Westfield.
“We have a big challenge in front us with Westfield on the sixth,” Ziter said, “they’re a team we have never played before.”
In fact, the Braves have four games on their schedule this season against teams they haven’t played before. They play just two Berkshire County teams. On Friday, Sept. 20 the Braves will look to avenge last year’s loss to Wahconah in the playoffs and the battle for Pittsfield against Pittsfield High will take place on Friday, Nov 1.
“The energy has been good [so far in camp],” Ziter said. “We’ve been throwing a lot at them and they’ve done a good job at picking it up. I tell them that we try to give them everything they need. It is their team and their program, they have to want to do it “
Jake Mendel can be reached at [email protected], at @JMendel94 on Twitter and 413-496-6252.
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