UTICA — Utica Yard Dogs head coach Frank Palmisano originally thought his newly formed semiprofessional football team would have a 60-to-40 run-pass ratio on offense.
Heck, with the likes of former Thomas R. Proctor stars J’von Evans and Lawrence Elliott filling in some of the skill positions, who can blame him?
Palmisano likes the experience and interchangeable parts his Empire Football League team presents ahead of its season opener 7 p.m. Saturday at Sauquoit Valley High School, where the Yard Dogs host the Charlotte Colonials.
He said his 60-40 mindset can turn into a 50-50 game plan, depending on the weather and the situation.
"We have enough talent to go over you or through ya," said Palmisano, the former John F. Kennedy High School coach and Utica College assistant who doubles as the Yard Dogs’ offensive coordinator. "The nice thing about our offense is if we need to grind it out or methodically down the field we can do that, and if we need to catch up, which I hope we don’t need to do, we have the ability to strike like lightning, too."
Evans, 22, is a 2014 Proctor grad that led Section III in rushing before earning awards as a freshman at Utica College. Coincidentally, Palmisano coached his father, Robert, at JFK High School decades ago.
"We’re just looking to perform and put on for our city," Evans said. "A lot of us are born and raised in the city. We take a lot of pride in Utica and playing for this team
At UC, Evans, as a kick and punt returner, was the only freshman named All-Empire 8 first team. He also was an honorable mention all-purpose back. The Proctor product led the conference with a punt return average of 21.2 yards. He also ran for 657 yards and 10 touchdowns. Look for him in the backfield and the slot with the Yard Dogs.
"We’re a fast-paced offense," Evans said. "We’re gonna look to put up a lot of points. We have a lot of players on offense and defense that can make a lot of plays. We have a lot of talent on this team. … A lot of people are doubting us, so why not?"
Elliott’s playing time Saturday may be limited as he gets familiar with the playbook. The 2013 Proctor grad and former All-Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) Eastern Division first team selection at Division II Bloomsburg University missed many Yard Dogs practices as he focused on graduating with a B.S. in digital forensics Saturday, March 12.
It will be interesting to see where Palmisano puts Elliott, 22, on the field. The 6-foot, 215-pound Elliott found success as a kick returner, punt returner and running back. As a senior, he averaged 140.5 all-purpose yards and scored three touchdowns in four games and became the fourth player in school history with 5,000 career all-purpose yards.
"Football has been a part of me since I was 9 years old," Elliott said. "It’s kind of weird graduating and not playing. I want to get myself involved in something."
Justin Chaires, a former American Arena League player, is expected to lead the offense at quarterback. Rome’s Aaron Tennant and Joshua Mason are "excellent receivers," according to Palmisano. Kenny Maryon is a 6-foot-5, 300-pound center from Syracuse and an "unbelievable talent."
Defensively, the Yard Dogs have Nick Woodman, another Proctor grad and all-conference pick at Utica College at defensive end. Andrew Meier is a backside tackle and 39-year-old Penta Thomas will be on the other end.
"You’ll see a lot of excitement and a lot of hitting this week," said Thomas, who is from Utica. "We’re trying to bring a lot of pressure to the quarterback. And we heard they have a nice little running game. We’ll try to keep everything in the box to keep their runs limited."
"We’re gonna make that quarterback very uncomfortable Saturday night," defensive coordinator Thomas Monroe said.
The Utica Yard Dogs will play their first two games over the span of seven weeks. After Charlotte visits Saturday, the Yard Dogs with host the Auburn Pride Saturday, June 2. They will then visit Seaway Valley Saturday, July 7.
Contact reporter Marquel Slaughter at 315-792-4963 or follow him on Twitter (@OD_Slaughter).