HOOSICK, N.Y. >> For nearly a decade, Hoosick Falls coach Ron Jones had a pretty good idea of where his team stood as the opening week's game approached.
In 2016, after a 5-5 campaign fraught with injuries and missing the playoffs for the first time since 2000, spirits are high that the Panthers can turn things around and get back to the level they've become accustomed to in the past.
"We're getting experienced as we go and working on the football IQ," said Jones, heading into his 19th season. "They are smart and working hard, it's coming. I just don't know where we are. Everyone thinks I'm sandbagging, but usually I have a sense, I just don't know this time."
He'll get a read on the situation starting tonight as the Panthers travel to Greenwich to play the Class C runner-up from a year ago.
"We are inexperienced at the skill positions, so when the lights come on tomorrow night, we'll find out what happens," Jones said. "I honestly have no idea. We are athletic enough to be a pretty darn good team, we have an awesome attitude and they are learning fast. It's really, 'How do you react when the lights come on?"
Senior Aaron Tomczak is a skill player with experience and he'll be the starter under center. He earned the spot with competition from Sam Richard and Brandon Decker.
"Aaron started at corner last year, so he has game experience," said Jones, a former quarterback for the Panthers. "He's going to be calm, cool and collected. He played fantastic in our scrimmage and he was great on defense as well. I have no concerns with him, he knows what we're doing offensively and he's good with his reads, that's a real plus for us."
Up front is where most of the experience of Friday nights lie. Junior Alex Hull, a sectional all-star, along with Bryan Thomas, Jon Bossoni and Devon Fitzpatrick all return on the offensive line. Sophomore Aaron Harman will be in the mix as well.
"All those guys are back and Aaron had a great year in the weight room and he's a very hard worker. We've had a lot of good lines over the years, but if there's one place you want to start with experience, it's on the offensive and defensive line," Jones said.
Drew Hoag and Tristan Hunt will share time in the backfield behind Tomczak, and Hunt will play some wide receiver. Both were second-team guys last season. AJ Hurlburt had some time last year both offensively and defensively and he returns. But many of the other skill spots will be filled by new guys, either to the team or coming up from the junior varsity level.
"David Everard switched from soccer to football and he has great instincts and he's a great athlete," Jones said. "We have Nick Giordano in the other spot and then AJ and Lucas Brogue in the slot."
Defensively, the scheme run by co-coaches Chris Fleming and Eamonn DeGraaf isn't complicated, but try telling that to coaches and teams that have to play against it.
"Our defensive line looked excellent at the scrimmage and most of the guys on defense are playing both ways," Jones said. "I like our attitude, they are working hard and accepting the coaching very well. Our hustle is pretty good. The offensive and defensive lines will be our keys, if they play well, we'll be in good shape."