GLENS FALLS - Personnel turnover is a fact of life in semipro football.
Even championship teams like the Glens Falls-based Greenjackets are not immune to real-life factors like retirements, job situations and opportunities to play closer to home.
The Jackets' top two running backs, Dan McGovern and Sakima Grimes, both have job commitments and may not rejoin the team for some time. The same goes for defensive lineman Cortez Pritchett.
All-American defensive ends Jarris (Night Train) Jones and Ken Hackett have not returned - Jones because of work commitments and Hackett because of retirement, though his former coaches have said he might come back.
Wide receiver Gabe Young is with the Albany Conquest arena football team. A number of other players from the Capital District opted to play for the Albany Metro Mallers, another Empire Football League team - most notably center Andres Morris, the Jackets' Offensive Lineman of the Year.
With holes on both offense and defense, some retooling is inevitable. But fortunately, the defending Empire Football League champion Jackets have key personnel back on offense, and more talent in the secondary could strengthen the defense and offset the losses up front.
"It's tough to fill some shoes - we're not as strong as last year right now, but overall we'll be successful," quarterback Kevin Siska said. Siska runs a multiple veer offense, which gives him many options to pass or run.
Siska and tight end Chris Glover are both third-year Greenjackets who have played football together since their pee-wee days, and Dan Chandler caught 50 passes for more than 1,000 yards last season. While Young's speed on the outside will be missed, his 34 catches for 635 yards and eight touchdowns could be spread out among the returnees.
Without the services of McGovern and Grimes, the Jackets will feature Mike Randall, Lonnie Willett, Tony Green and Brian Erdoes out of the backfield. Green has the most experience while Randall has spent time at linebacker and halfback.
"We're lacking a little in the running backs department, but our offensive line is real strong, so we're looking to put the ball in the air even more this year," said Siska, who passed for nearly 2,300 yards and 24 touchdowns last year. "With Dan and Gloves, we have two great core receivers."
Siska said the simplicity of the offense will help the veterans and newcomers alike as they head into tonight's season opener against the Watertown Red & Black at East Field.
"Our new guys have a lot of skill; we just need to acclimate them to the offense," Siska said. "It's an easy offense to learn. We only practice twice a week, so we make it as easy as possible - a 7-year-old could learn this offense. It's basic fundamentals."
On defense, pass rushers Jones and Hackett left the most glaring holes. Plugging in new personnel up front will be a vital part to the Jackets' success. Anthony Vignola and Mitch Morgan return up front, but both were hurt at the end of last season.
"It depends on our defensive line jelling - we have no guaranteed starters back," said Jon Rowan, who anchors the linebacking corps with Shane Sportman.
"The defensive ends and outside linebackers will be question marks," associate head coach Pete Quackenbush said. "Our defensive line did all right against our offense, but Watertown is another story."
Assistant coach John Adams said the Jackets are planning to resurrect the "40 man rush" defense from a couple of years ago.
"That's where we go man-to-man on the receivers and send the house," Adams said. "But I think our secondary is better than last year."
Cornerback Chad Gamache is the lone returning starter. He is joined by former Hudson Falls player Dario Cilauro at the other corner, and safeties Jai Echols and John Slater.
"The secondary is more solid than when I started," said Rowan, a third-year Greenjacket. "Jai Echols played for me at RPI, Slater I think is fantastic at strong safety, Chad is back and Dario is a very good cover corner. Our strength is our secondary."