MADISON — You can talk about replacing receiver Zack Hochman on Notre Dame-West Haven’s football team, but the very concept implies that’s all you’re replacing.
Here was a player who led the team in receptions, touchdowns, interceptions, was a short-yardage quarterback, returned kicks, punted, and not for nothing, was called a leader like few the school has ever had.
The good news for the Green Knights is that Hochman leaves a legacy in the way he led some of the younger players around him, rising juniors like Rob Oliverio, Austin Pieck, Tom Candelora, Aiden Stankiewicz, to name a few.
“Zack was a huge loss, as he was the best player on the team, but we had a lot of guys … that are skill guys that can try to step up and become a leader like he is,” Candelora said Friday after a dozen or so Green Knights competed at Day 1 of the Grip It and Rip It seven-on-seven event at Hand.
“We didn’t just lose him physically on the field. He was also the best leader we had.”
Friday’s 16-team event was one step in figuring out who’ll fit where, though since all those juniors-to-be got time last year, they’ve at least got that experience.
“We came in thinking we have all the skill in the world. It’s just a matter of what we do with it,” Candelora said. “We were looking a little flat in the beginning and picked up the tempo toward the end.
“This type of experience really brings a team together. We’ll figure it out by the end.”
The competition continues Saturday morning with a double-elimination playoff.
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Greenwich doesn’t quite look like the team that won the Class LL championship last year; over 35 players graduated, and its head coach, John Marinelli, resigned to take a college job.
The Cardinals didn’t even quite look like themselves Friday, either, with an assortment of returning players on the sideline with injuries, including A.J. Barber and captains Jack Warren, Spencer Hartley and Evan Weigold.
Better on June 28 than Nov. 28, but still.
“A bunch of guys coming out here showed a great effort, with the heat and all,” Warren said, and it was a pretty harsh 90ish all day. “It was a rough start, but we got it together at the end. I’m proud of these boys.”
Weigold likes the looks of things as new players fill in the holes that graduates left.
“We’ve got more sevens this summer. It’ll come together better. For the first sevens, I’m happy with what we saw today,” Warren said.
“We want to get out here and do well,” Hartley added, “but it’s more about having fun and getting ready for the season.”
When Platt’s quarterback looks around to start the season, he’ll see lots of familiar faces. It won’t be the same for those faces looking back.
“We have our whole offensive line. We have a couple of receivers,” rising senior Deaven Tanner said. “The only real difference in our offense is me.”
Lorenzo Sanson graduated after leading the Panthers to the Class M semifinals. It’s Tanner’s turn now.
“Right now, I think we’re on a good track,” he said, “but we’ve got to keep working.”
Friday was a good step toward building chemistry, he said.
“Some people run their routes a little shallow. You’ve got to be perfect,” Tanner said.
“We struggled at the beginning, I think because guys were nervous, but we picked it up at the end.”