By Will LeBlond
While the results have not been there in terms of wins, Kelly Gordon is building the Ithaca High Football program from the bottom up.
It’s been a struggle in recent years to find success for the Little Red, who are the only Class AA team in the county, but they’ve been trending in a positive direction. After a one win season in 2015, which came in their final game of the year against Norwich, coach Gordon’s team responded in 2016 with two wins, but it could have been a lot more.
“We graduated a ton of seniors last year,” said Gordon. “We had really high expectations, but we had some really bad injuries, which really hurt us. I don’t think our record was indicative of the type of team we had.”
Injuries, especially to starting quarterback and now Cornell University football player Turner DePalma, slowed down the Little Red’s progress last fall. And although this year’s team includes a lot of varsity newcomers, Gordon does not want to slow down.
“Last year was last year,” said Gordon. “We’ve got a new bunch of kids and a really young team. Basically the whole JV team is now the varsity team.
“We have a lot of juniors that will be starting and playing big roles,” he added. “We’ve got to go full steam ahead and get these guys prepared.”
While there will be a lack of varsity experience on the field this year, the team’s preparation starts far before they hit the field. Gordon and company have put a big focus on strength and conditioning in hopes that more success will come from the long hours of lifting during the summer.
“The guys put a lot of time and effort into that and we take pride in that,” said Gordon. “That’s something we start up basically as soon as the season ends in November. One of the reasons we do that is to physically prepare the guys for a long season.”
He hopes that physicality will continue to have an impact on the defensive side of the ball, as the Little Red made strides on that front in 2016.
“Last year was the first year that we had a really good defensive identity,” said Gordon. “We were tough on defense and in years past, due to our depth, we didn’t a whole lot of replacements on defense. So last year set the tone for us defensively, and we hope to carry that going forward.”
Unfortunately for the Little Red, they drew a tough assignment in their season opener on September 2 in the Carrier Dome in Syracuse when they fell 50-0 to Auburn. While the result wasn’t there, it was still a growing experience for Gordon’s young squad.
“It’s a big time game to be able to go up there and play on such a big stage,” he said. “It was pretty cool to go up and play on the same field as a lot of the all-time greats.”
The stage will switch back to high school venues for the rest of the year for Ithaca, which will include a tough road stretch. They will have three straight away games (Union-Endicott, Corning and Vestal) before they finally return to Joe Moresco Stadium on October 6 to host Elmira.
With a tough stretch set to test his growing group, Gordon has one thing in mind moving forward.
“Our mentality is to be aggressive,” he said. “To be aggressive and to keep the offense on their heels and we want to make them make the mistake and hopefully create some turnovers for our offense.”