It’s not always pretty, Genoa-Kingston football coach Travis Frederick said.
But quarterback Griffin McNeal finds a way to make a play.
McNeal returns under center for the Cogs, hoping to power the team back to the playoffs after a 5-5 season and first-round exit last year.
The senior play-caller took over late in his sophomore year. Last year, he completed 55.1 percent of his passes for 1,199 yards, 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He led the team to the postseason for the first time since 2010.
“He may not always be the sharpest and it may not always be the cleanest execution, but he has a little bit of a knack for making big plays and getting us out of trouble,” Frederick said. “If we get in third-and-long, or we’re backed up against our own end zone, he just has a way of pulling things along and helping us move the ball.”
The fourth-year head coach said having a play-maker such as McNeal has its benefits.
“It takes pressure of everybody,” Frederick said. “The boys know if we just give a guy like that a chance that something special can happen at anytime. I try to tell the kids who make the plays, the backs and the receivers, you got to make the plays when he presents those to you.”
McNeal was battle-tested last year with five games decided by a touchdown or less. The Cogs went 2-3 in those contests. The toughest of those losses was against eventual conference champ Harvard, 22-21, in which the Cogs missed a two-point conversion in the final 2 minutes that would have given them their first league title since 1992.
“There’s a little bit of a sting right there,” Frederick said. “They’ve still got it on their minds.”
Frederick said only a handful of starters return from last year, but most of the players got playing time last year anyway. The team’s depth has gotten better over the past couple years, letting the coach go deeper and deeper on his bench. This year, he said there were 68 players out at the start of camp.
McNeal said the experience is a definite strength.
“We don’t have a lot of returning starters, but we have a lot of guys who played a lot of time last year,” McNeal said. “Everybody knows the offense and is really familiar with it.
“We have a lot of depth on our team, offensively and defensively,” he said. “We have guys who can step up and know what they are doing.”
Frederick said his team reached the postseason last year but is looking for more this year – namely more than a one-and-done playoff trip. Last year, the Cogs lost 24-0 to eventual state runner-up Geneseo in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs.
“We’ve had a lot of playoff teams over the years,” Frederick said. “Even going back to the 1980s and ‘90s. But only a couple of teams have gone beyond that second round. We certainly want to start making those quarterfinals, semifinals, hopefully state appearances.”