Keystone: Building from the ground up

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Keystone's helmet on a metal bench with a brick background. (Keystone athletics photo)
Keystone athletics photo

By Tom Haley

A decade of new faces

Thirteen schools have added Division III varsity football programs in the past decade. (Presentation has since left for the NAIA.) 

2009: Anna Maria, Castleton State
2010: Pacific
2011: Presentation, Stevenson
2012: Misericordia
2013: Hendrix, Berry, Southwestern
2014: George Fox
2015: Finlandia
2018: Alvernia, University of New England

Rich Alercio, Castleton's first football coach, was eating a chicken salad sandwich at a sidewalk cafe in the heart of the geographic grouping of New York State high schools classified as Section II.

It was 10 years ago and the new program had not played its first game. Alercio was after players and he knew Section II would be an important piece of the recruiting effort. You can get to the first high school in Section II from the Castleton campus in about three or four songs on your car radio. He and assistant Marc Klatt were getting to 10 high schools in this one day.

The chicken salad was midway through this blitz and Alercio was excited.

"Vermont is our front yard but Section II is our backyard," he said.

Warrensburg is a Section II high school and it is also the alma mater of Justin Higgins, hired as head football coach of the brand-new program at Keystone College in Pennsylvania. Higgins' first assistant hired was Dominick Guglielomo, a graduate of Glens Falls High, another Section II school.

You can already feel the beginning of a recruiting war.

Two of the best players to ever wear the Castleton Spartan uniform came out of Section II. Shane Brozowski rewrote record books in a career that saw him throw for 10,910 yards and 87 touchdowns. Tyler Carpenter once rushed for four touchdowns against Becker and five times ran for three TDs in a game. He finished with 2,781 yards rushing.

A couple coaches later, Section II is still important. The recruiting board in Tony Volpone's office always has a liberal sprinkling of players from Section II.

This summer alone that board had commits from Section II like defensive back Zach Nolan, defensive lineman Arthur Stott and offensive linemen Trever Rose, Ivan Jerome, Tom Donovan and Ben Forte.

Higgins is in a rich recruiting area. Pennsylvania is known for its high school football and the campus not far from Scranton has a wealth of talent in its backyard.

"I believe you start in your backyard and work out," Higgins said. "Football in the Scranton area is very strong. That is a great place to start and we should do well in Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. We are going to have a lot of options."

And there is always Section II where Higgins and his assistant have roots and connections.

"Castleton does a great job in Section II. We are going to have a tough time there but we are going to try," Higgins said. "I am sure we will be going head-to-head for some players."

The Giants will play club football in 2019 and become a full-fledged varsity team in 2020 as a member of the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference.

"I don't think it's going to take them long. They are in a place with a lot of great high school football players," Gallaudet coach Chuck Goldstein said.

"They already have a good athletic program in place. They are just adding football to it and I don't think it will take long at all for them to become good," Dean coach Steve Tirrell said.

"They are a good addition," Volpone said.

Justin Higgins head shot in a coat and tie.
Justin Higgins

The Giants are a nice geographic fit for the ECFC. "We have four 4-hour trips and two that are two-plus hours. It isn't bad," Higgins said.

The Giants will be replacing ECFC heavyweight Husson, again the league favorite. The Eagles are moving to the Commonwealth Coast Conference after this season, leaving the conference with six teams until Keystone arrives in 2020.

That might be two years away, but there is plenty to do for Higgins and his staff which should soon be growing.

"I am not bored," Higgins said. "It's everything right now. Getting the lines on the field, getting an office. It's everything from scratch.

"The other piece is that there hasn't been football on this campus for over 70 years. Football is different so there is an education process. But the people have been great."

The decision to land in the ECFC was pretty much all hammered out before Higgins was hired in March.

"Our athletic director knew the importance of getting in a conference. It was mainly done when I got here," he said.

It looks like a great fit. It will be SUNY Maritime's closest league opponent, for example. And, of course, there are the Spartans. Keystone and Castleton looks like a rivalry just waiting to happen, between the lines and out on the roads amidst the Adirondacks.

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