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HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL: Wheeler IV paves way for VVS football team

See what’s at play this fall for high school football.

Steve Jones
Sports writer
email / twitter
Posted 9/10/22

Opponents will get a heavy dose of James Wheeler IV when the Vernon-Verona-Sherrill football team hits the field this fall. The senior running back is in his fourth year on varsity.

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HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL: Wheeler IV paves way for VVS football team

See what’s at play this fall for high school football.


VERONA — Opponents will get a heavy dose of James Wheeler IV when the Vernon-Verona-Sherrill football team hits the field this fall.

The senior running back is in his fourth year on varsity. Last fall he piled up almost 1,350 yards rushing and wound up in the end zone 18 times. In three seasons (including the COVID-shortened 2020-21 spring season) he’s run for over 2,000 yards and scored 29 rushing TDs while adding almost 200 yards receiving and another touchdown.

And with all the weapons the team lost to graduation, the Red Devils will need another stellar season from the speedster.

VVS opened the season with a rivalry game — against host Oneida on Sept. 2 and won 14-0.

Head coach Gary Oliver, now in his 19th season at the helm, guided the team to a 5-4 record last year, including a loss to Homer in the Class B semifinals. This year the school has dropped down to Class C.

When asked who he’ll miss among the losses in the Class of 2022, Oliver said: “There was a lot.” That includes quarterback Ben Wittman, receivers Jackson Horodnick and Bryce Palmer, linemen Joshua Lennon and Jarett Herzog and linebackers Michael DiGiorgio, Rex James, Logan Vanderhoof and Brady Carver.

“You have to really adjust with the personnel you have every year,” Oliver said. “This is going to be an adjustment year because we don’t have those type of players this year. At least not yet.”

The obvious starting point for the offense wears the number one on his chest. “It very well could be the Wheeler show. He’s going to get the bulk of the carries,” Oliver said. “We’re going to lean on his experience.” He has learned to run inside and can get to the corner with his speed, the coach noted. “He’s becoming a better running back,” Oliver said. “His vision has gotten much better.”

Joining him in the backfield are senior Tyler Wittmann and senior fullback Matthew Rossi. Sophomore Moses Sherwood, new to varsity, is also an option and can play tight end as well. Other running backs are senior Eli Albro and junior George Lighthall.

They’ll line up behind first year varsity quarterback Charlie Foster, a junior. Returning senior Tyler Shantal will also be an option. Freshman James Ward is also at quarterback.

With Horodnick and Palmer gone, the receiving situation is, Oliver said, “A work in progress.” Seniors Keaton Fox and Bailey Coufal are back, and Shantal could be there too. Senior Daniel Esch is also listed as a wide receiver and the team has several tight ends — juniors Carson Collins and Cohen Cosimeno, sophomore Dylan Clute and freshman Brody Barlow.

Said Oliver: “I don’t think we can run the same type of offense that we did last year. We’re just not going to have the kid that can throw it all over the field or the receivers who can make all those catches like the two experienced kids we had who graduated. We’ll probably lean more on the run game and not just try to throw it deep to two fast guys.”

Two seniors will anchor the offensive line as the tackles, Oliver said of Lorenzo Garcia and Vincent Laribee. “They have the experience of varsity last year.” Junior Gabriel DiGiorgio is at center and senior Zachary Cullen and freshman Kaden Bawlow will be the guards. Other linemen are seniors Jack Bailey and John Denison; juniors Austin French, Adem Muric, Jarrod Scroggs and Seth Spadter; and freshman Cole Shlotzhauer.

The defense will also have to overcome a lack of returning starters. “We have two kids returning so we have nine new spots. I would have to say that starting off it’ll be a ‘bend but don’t break defense.’ As they learn it will hopefully become more of an aggressive defense,” Oliver said.

Garcia and Laribee will likely start on the defensive line. The Red Devils could also find production at defensive tackle from two players who are new to football, Spadter and Scroggs. Also on the line are junior Seth Roundy, Bailey, Kaden Barlow, Clute, Cosimeno, Cullen, Denison, French, Muric, Sherwood and Shlotzhauer.

The two returning starters are in the middle of the defense, inside linebackers Rossi and Albro. Wittmann will also play there. At outside linebacker, Coufal and Foster are in the mix. Other linebackers are junior Kaden Leddick and Collins.

Shantal and Fox are the top cornerbacks.

Tyler Wittmann will be at safety, with Brody Barlow settling in to a starting role as well.

The other defensive backs are Esch, Lighthall, Ward and Wheeler.

For Oliver, this year will be one defined by learning and improving. Rather than talk about goals like the playoffs and Section III titles, he keeps it simple. “It looks more like the fact of whether we’re learning and getting better each week. We’re very young and even the older kids have less experience.” He said he’d like to see the team learn from mistakes and “be competitive.”

Despite moving down from Class B to Class C, “There’s a lot of challenges in our schedule,” Oliver said.

There’s a little wrinkle in the rivalry game with Class B Oneida to kick things off this season. Oneida first year head coach Matt McCoy played for Oliver at VVS. Oliver called the matchup “a good test for us right from the get go.” As for the reunion with McCoy, “It’s not really where I want to see him, on the rivalry side. I think he’ll do really great over there.”

Oliver also pointed to a few other big games on the schedule: game two against perenial Class C challenger General Brown, game six hosting Holland Patent (who “will be a very tough team”) and Cazenovia for the Red Devils’ final home regular season game.



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