First the bad news. Last year’s all-everything running back Avery Hoffman now calls the University of Pennsylvania home.
The good news? Riverdale Country School has virtually everyone else returning for this season, meaning the Falcons are fully equipped for a three-peat run at the King of the Hill crown.
“With Avery gone to Penn, there are some big shoes to fill,” Riverdale coach Joe Otero said. “But we have a lot of returners. We lost only two starters on offense, and unfortunately one of them was Avery. But now we also have a huge freshman class coming in.”
By huge, Otero means 14, and “they’re pretty good,” the coach said. They’ll join a pair of sophomores playing for the first time as well, all coming from Hackley School in Tarrytown as well as Fieldston.
Otero also welcomes back a pair of seniors who will have a lot to say about how successful the Falcons’ season turns out this year with Ryan Rosenzweig at quarterback and Ernie Robertson back as his main target at wide receiver.
“It’s a good feeling having Ryan back at quarterback and Ernie is a big part of what we do on defense and a huge part of what we do on offense,” Otero said.
Last season the Falcons’ offense was a steady diet of Hoffman runs with some occasional Rosenzweig-to-Robertson passes tossed in. But this time around, Otero said he plans to open up the offense more, meaning fans can expect to see Rosenzweig looking for Robertson downfield a lot more.
“We’re going to be airing the ball out a little more, which will loosen up the run defense,” Rosenzweig said. “We have Ernie who is such a phenomenal receiver so you’ve got to target him any time you can.”
And that little soliloquy is music to Robertson’s ears.
“I’m definitely looking forward to more passing and a great season,” Robertson said, with a huge grin firmly in place.
The one player who will be looked at to fill the void left by Hoffman’s graduation is senior running back Jeffrey Barrett. He was Hoffman’s sidekick last season, more or less, but now he will be a featured player in the Falcons’ offense.
“Jeffrey is going to step into Avery’s role, and I think he is going to do very well,” Otero said.
The coach is not the only one expecting big things from Barrett as both Robertson and Rosenzweig think he’s ready for his own coming out party.
“For the past four years Jeffrey has played a pivotal role on our team, and I think he’s going to step up a lot this year,” Robertson said. “I have confidence in him that he will step up when we need him to.”
“Jeffrey is definitely going to fill Avery’s shoes,” Rosenzweig said. “He’s a really skilled running back. He’s smart, he’s quick and he’s tough.”
The Falcons finished 5-4 last season, but Otero believes this season that win total could rise given the talent returning this year.
“I’m hoping for a lot more wins,” Otero said. “I’m never going to say we’re going to go undefeated until we do.”
Riverdale is one of the larger teams in the league when it comes to height, weight and numbers — there are more than 40 players on the Riverdale roster — and they have a lot of returners.
“A lot of teams are starting new quarterbacks, new running backs or new receivers this year while we have guys who have a year or two already under their belts,” Otero said. “So we’re definitely heading in the right direction.”
Rosenzweig said the Falcons are looking at their individual roles as jobs and will use that philosophy to take care of business on the field this season.
“We have a lot more numbers than we usually do, which is phenomenal,” Rosenzweig said. “Team camaraderie is great. Everyone is out here working hard, everyone knows the deal, that it’s work when we come out here. Me, Ernie, Jeffrey and (offensive lineman) Nick Zavattero, we’re all looking to have big senior years. We haven’t won the league yet so that’s our top goal and we haven’t gone undefeated since I’ve been here, so going out like that would be amazing.
“And I think we have the team to do it this year.
The Falcons’ season gets underway Sept. 9 when they make the 10-block or so trip down to Horace Mann to begin their journey for a third straight King of the Hill title. Last season Riverdale defeated Horace Mann 48-26, and squeezed by Fieldston, 16-14, to win its second straight “King” crown.
“We’re just down the hill from them, and we’re both preparing for that game a ton,” Rosenzweig said. “So it’s really a competition of who trained better, who prepared better and who is more invested in this season. Hopefully that will be us. The past two years it has been.”