GLENS FALLS — Fans were fortunate to witness one of the greatest eras in local football for the last four years: the JG3 era.
Joseph Girard III has taken his considerable athletic talents to Syracuse basketball, but his impact on Glens Falls football was memorable: the Indians won two state championships and went 43-5 in Girard's four varsity seasons. Glens Falls' freewheeling quarterback led the Indians to a 35-3 mark in his three seasons as the starter, including a rally for a 55-32 victory over Batavia in last year's state title game.
Much of Girard's supporting cast — like linebacker Kyle Vachon, receiver Trent Girard, and linemen Thompson Collins and Connor Girard — also graduated in June.
But the Indians' cupboard is not exactly bare, with several returning playmakers that contributed to one of the most productive offenses in Section II football history. Some players, like seniors David Barclay and Nick Danahy, played with JG3 on Glens Falls' state and Federation championship basketball team last winter.
"We lost the ultimate competitor in Joe, but I think some of that stuff rubbed off on these guys," said Pat Lilac, the Indians' veteran head coach. "A lot of these kids played basketball, too, so they’ve been on a lot of winning teams and competitive situations. The big thing in football is how you respond when things are tough."
Rebuilding both lines will be imperative for Glens Falls, especially on offense, where new quarterback Noah Girard — another cousin of JG3's — will be breaking in.
"Our biggest question marks are a few spots on our O-line, our D-line and our middle linebackers," Lilac said. "I think we have some good candidates for them, just figuring out who it will be. There’s some good competition, more so than we’ve had for a while."
Quarterback: It's impossible to replace a quarterback like Joseph Girard III, whose uncanny ability to extend plays and throw darts to receivers caused jaws to drop for three seasons. He passed for a Section II single-season record 3,078 yards and a remarkable 36 touchdown passes in leading Glens Falls to an 11-2 record last season. He finished his career with 6,924 career yards, 88 touchdown passes and a 62 percent completion rate.
Enter Noah Girard, a 5-foot-10, 145-pound junior who will not be asked to be JG3. He saw some mop-up duty as the backup last year.
"He doesn't have to be Joe. He can throw the ball pretty well, he’s quick, he just needs some experience," Lilac said. "What’s going to help him is he has a lot of playmakers around him, so he doesn’t have to really do anything special for us if he can facilitate and not turn the ball over."
Aidan Hirsch, another Girard cousin, backs up at quarterback and three other offensive skill positions.
Backs and receivers: Noah Girard will have no lack of quality targets. Between them, Barclay, Aalijah Sampson and Hogan Fox caught 100 passes last season for 23 touchdowns, and they're all back. Barclay is a big target at 6-foot, 190, while the 5-5, 135-pound Sampson is the speedy scatback type. Hirsch, Jamal Rawlings and Jackson Brand could also see time.
Griffin Woodell — yet another Girard cousin — was having a breakout season as a freshman before breaking his collarbone. He returns at running back, along with Cooper Montgomery and Sampson.
"They're pretty versatile kids," Lilac said. "They can all catch the ball, they’re all pretty good in space and they can block, as well."
Offensive line: The biggest holes for the Indians are up front, where only Danahy (6-6, 230) is a returning starter at tackle. J.T. Lapham (6-3, 190) started at the other tackle when Vachon was hurt early last season. Dylan Niro (5-10, 220) takes over at center, while the guard spots were up in the air among several candidates.
Defense: The defensive line will be anchored by Danahy and Niro, but the other defensive tackle spot was open. Woodell and Barclay will be the outside linebackers, Barclay for the third year. Replacing Vachon and Connor Girard at the inside backer spots was a "battle royale" in preseason, Lilac said.
Fox looks like the new free safety, stepping into the very big shoes that JG3 occupied for four seasons. Sampson returns at one corner, and Noah Girard, Montgomery, Hirsch and Brand were all battling for time in the secondary.
Special teams: The Indians will miss the powerful foot of Cornell-bound kicker Sam Hogan, who was a touchback machine, reliably putting kickoffs though the end zone for two years. However, soccer player Cyrus Guillet worked with Hogan over the summer and will be the new kicker.
Outlook: The Indians do have some holes, but they're not the only ones with gaps to fill in Class B North. All five teams — Glens Falls, Hudson Falls, Schuylerville, Broadalbin-Perth and Johnstown — are replacing multi-year starting quarterbacks this season.
"A lot of teams are replacing a lot of key guys, and we’re right in there with them — we’re replacing as many guys as everybody else," Lilac said. "I think it’s kind of wide open."