Campus started to come back to life as the Castleton Football team began their pre-season camp on Aug. 11. Led by Head Coach Tony Valpone, the team is eager to take the next step to bring home their first championship.
The Spartans placed third in the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference, finishing 6-4 on the season, and 4-2 in conference play.
After having a deep veteran core on both sides of the ball, players were hungry to get back to work and fill those roles.
The team honored Jacob Griggs, Thomas Donovan and Tucker Gaudette as captains of the 2022 team and gave them the task to lead the new regime of Spartans into battle.
After losing players like former captains Dustin Rock, Seth Gewanter and standout player Chris Rice, who attended the Tennessee Titans minicamp, there were many holes to fill. The veteran group left needs to find people to step up into these roles starting with leading the freshman.
“The culture has shifted for the older guys in a sense that there’s not really a Chris Rice to turn to or a Seth Gewanter when things are going wrong,” says Donovan. “The older guys have to step up and the new leadership has to step up.”
“I think it was good for the older guys and younger guys to mesh,” said Griggs. “The older guys can show the younger guys what our mission is, what we are about and how we play football here.” He went on to add that the younger guys are buying into their mission. This has shown on the field as they have already started to play their role.
Groups such as the running backs, linebackers and wide receivers have all been shown praise by the captains having lots of talent creating a competitive environment during practice. This environment is exactly what the captains wanted coming into this season.
“With the new leadership that has come in, it’s definitely helped following the older guys,” Gaudette said. “We are trying to carry on that same tradition and leadership style.”
All three captains take pride in carrying this tradition of uniting the team to become the most disciplined, physically and fundamentally sound family. Creating such an environment has benefitted the team with having one common goal, to win the ECFC.
During the spring, the Spartans coaching staff gained some familiar faces. The defense was greeted with new defensive coordinator Tyler Higley, who played with the Spartans as a quarterback and defensive back until 2016. Having coached with the team as a graduate assistant until 2019, this will be his second run as a coach for the team.
Higley was impressed with the amount of depth coming back from last year’s team and lots of competition heading into this year.
“The younger players have added to that depth and given us more people to play on gameday,” said Higley. “Now we don’t necessarily have to play the same 11 on the field and treat everyone like warriors.”
As a defense, he doesn’t expect much drop off with the amount of talent on the defensive side of the ball. He believes the game experience from the veteran group this year will allow the defense to pick up where they left off last year.
Former defensive coordinator Anthony Marsella has turned his attention to the opposition becoming the offensive coordinator for the team. After having two successful seasons on the defensive side of the ball, he looks to bring this energy into the offense.
With previous experience on the offensive side of the ball, the transition was comfortable for him, and he is thrilled to be back.
Having coached against a lot of his new weapons, he has high hopes for his offense this year.
“We knew the guys who were going to give defenses trouble,” Marsella says. “Having an experienced offensive line always fixes a lot of problems. It opens up a lot of holes in the run game and once teams start packing the box, we can start to throw the ball a lot more.”
Another addition to the offensive side of the ball was another familiar face to the family. Former Castleton wide receiver Tony Martinez looks to help the young wide receiver core after leaving his mark.
Martinez led the team in all receiving categories last year including a 193-yard performance against Alfred State in 2021.
From a previous interview in August, Martinez got the offer from Valpone due to his experience with the program and understanding what expectations the coaches have.
The process from being a player to a coach has been hard, but he is excited for how rewarding this job can be and is pumped to be working with his old teammates again.
The Green and White Scrimmage brought out many students, fans and families excited to see football back in action.
Both captains and coaches were excited to consume the energy from the crowd and they fed off it during the scrimmage.
Donavon was excited to play in what he felt was real football for the first time in a while. The turnout of the scrimmage gives high hopes for what’s to come on Saturday.
Griggs recalls that it’s the most he’s ever seen for a Green and White scrimmage, and the energy that was built from that is something he’s excited for.
Higley added that the love from the student body and the community surrounding Castleton is truly unmatched.
“That was the biggest scrimmage crowd we’ve had yet, and that was a bigger crowd than most home teams have,” Marsella adds.
The Spartans are ready to take on this new season. Their next task is the Homecoming game vs. Fitchburg State on Sept. 10.