Answer to Question No. 1: Howie Seymour grew up on McDonnell Street. he was one of seven children in his family. He inherited his small size from his dad Jimmy, who was an exercise rider and trainer for the Sanford Stud Farm for over thirty years. Pound for pound, Howie Seymour was probably one of the toughest guys to ever suit up for the Purple & Gold. He was also one of several great seniors on that 1963 AHS team, including familiar local names like Joe Nabozny, Frank Derrico, Larry Olney, Dan Dixon, Bill Case, Richie DelCostello and Mike Krochina. That 5-2 squad coached by Wes Boals ended a long string of losing seasons for the Amsterdam program. Seymour carried the ball just 64 times that year but amassed almost 500 rushing yards. He was also a great student, maintaining an 88 average. After high school he joined the Marines and then served his country in Vietnam. (photo above shows l to r Jimmy Seymour, Howie and AHS Head Coach Wes Boals)
Answer to Question No. 2: Joe Pozniak was brought up to play varsity football during his sophomore year at Amsterdam High School in 1965 and after breaking into the starting backfield that season, went on to become one of the team’s leading rushers during both his junior and senior campaigns. He would later become a professional firefighter for the City of Amsterdam.
Answer to Question No. 3: Rick Bien was an outstanding high school athlete, earning spots in the starting lineups of all three major sports during his three years at Amsterdam. A member of the Class of 69, Bien’s greatest afternoon on the high school gridiron came against Class A League opponent Philip Schuyler during his senior season. He gained 159 yards from his halfback position that afternoon and scored two touchdowns.
Answer to Question No. 4: Bobby Lazarou was a superb schoolboy athlete who began his high school interscholastic sports career at AHS, where his uncles Dolly and Costa Lazarou had both become schoolboy baseball legends during the early 1940’s. Bobby wrestled and played football for Amsterdam, seeing plenty of action in the Rams’ backfield during his junior season in 1969. He then transferred to Bishop Scully for his senior year and Dutch Howlan paired Lazarou with Gene Twardzik to form a formidable starting backfield. Howlan also used the speedy Lazarou to return kicks and punts.
Answer to Question No. 5: Gene Twardzik ran the ball 84 times during Bishop Scully’s 1970-71 football season and gained 514 yards, averaging just a hair over six yards per carry. This guy had a nose for the end zone as well, scoring 12 touchdowns that season.
Answer to Question No. 6: Mike Tuman was one of the great all-around athletes in Amsterdam High School history. He co-captained the 1970-71 Rugged Rams and that team won the school’s first football title in 22 years with a perfect 4-0 league record and a 6-1-1 overall mark. Nicknamed “Igor” by his teammates, Tuman carried the ball 106 times and gained 527 yards that season and he was also one of the area’s very best linebackers. He’s shown above with his younger sisters Debbi (center) and Diane receiving the telephone call informing him that he had won the 1970-71 Recorder Player of the Year Award.
Answer to Question No. 7: Dave “Rocket” Weissman put together two outstanding seasons as a high yardage running back for Amsterdam High in 1970 and ’71 after transferring in from Perth Central School. The Rams won two consecutive Class A titles with him in the backfield and he broke the 1,000 yard rushing mark in his senior season to earn Recorder Player of the Year honors.
Answer to Question No. 8: Not only did Francis “Boomer” Howlan lead the Bishop Scully football team in rushing yards during his 1972-73 senior season, he also led the Mohawk’s Varsity basketball team in scoring that same year. Both squads were coached by Boomer’s dad, the one and only Dutch Howlan
Answer to Question No. 9:Joe Hage’s 1,200 yard rushing season as a senior for the Rams 1973-74 football team earned him Recorder Player of the Year honors. He went on to play football and baseball for Southern Illinois University and spent three years as a minor league baseball player with Niagara Falls and the Plainsville Yankees.
Answer to Question No. 10: Mark DiCaprio broke the 1,000 yard rushing mark during that 1974-75 campaign, leading Amsterdam to their fourth Class A title in five seasons. He was named Recorder Player of the Year for that performance and he and teammate Dan Gutowski were recruited by the University of Northern Colorado.
Answer to Question No. 11: Paul Cisek was a highly talented schoolboy athlete. He starred on AHS football, basketball and baseball teams during his three seasons at AHS. He then attended SUNY Oswego, where he excelled at baseball. Meanwhile, his sister married former Siena and Marquette head basketball coach Mike Deane and Cisek ended up following his brother-in-law into the college hoops coaching fraternity. Since 1992 he has been the head men’s basketball coach at Brookdale CC in New Jersey, where he won a JUCO National Championship in 2013. In 2017 he reached the 500 career coaching victories milestone.
Answer to Question No. 12: Nicknamed “Nestor”, Brian Niezgoda excelled at all three major sports during his days as a student athlete at the upper Church Street school but it was his four years carrying a football out of Scully’s backfield that made him a local legend. By the time he graduated he held the Section II records for scoring in a career, a single season and a single game. As a senior, Niezgoda rushed for 1,652 yards, scoring 27 touchdowns and 19 two-point conversions. It was the first time in Section II football history that a player had scored 200 points. This record stood for 14 years. Those 1,652 rushing yards were the standard in Section II for eight years. Niezgoda had also rushed for 1,285 yards, as a junior and again led Section II in scoring with 132 total points, including 20 touchdowns.
Answer to Question No. 13: His name was James Valikonis. He put together one of the guttiest rushing performances in program history in that epic 1985 postseason battle between the Rams and Shenendehowa. He rushed for over 100 yards that day and scored both of Amsterdam’s touchdowns. His first score was a 52-yard dash down the sideline. The above picture of Valikonis was taken during that run. He then scored the first TD in overtime on a one yard plunge. After Shen also scored on their first possession in OT they intercepted a Dickie Peters pass to spoil Amsterdam’s next possession and had gotten the ball to the one yard line when Valikonis, who was also an outstanding defensive player for head coach Frank Derrico, sacked the Shen QB for an 11-yard loss. But the team from Clifton Park then kicked a 20-yard field goal and Amsterdam lost a heartbreaker.
Answer to Question No. 14: Kevin Billington was a superb running back on the superb 1986 undefeated Amsterdam High School team. This was a ball club that gave up less than 50 points points in an entire season but as good as their defense played, the offensive unit was every bit as good led by this yardage machine who was named the Schenectady Gazette’s Offensive Player of the Year. Billington went on to become a highly respected football coach himself, producing some outstanding teams at Cobleskill-Richmondville High and also serving as an assistant coach at Hartwick College.
Answer to Question No. 15: Russ Dickson and Billington formed what I personally believe was the greatest running back tandem in AHS gridiron history. Dickson was strong and quick and the type of player who could do everything well and at full throttle. 1986 was the first and only time Amsterdam placed two running backs in the top three finishers for total rushing yards in the Big Ten. One more interesting tidbit for local football fans. The above photo is a team picture of an undefeated Maroon Wildcats Little Giants team from (I believe) 1980. Number 28 in the first row is Russ Dickson. Number 47 in the first row is Kevin Billington. The redheaded kid fourth from the left in the middle row is a young James Valikonis. The team’s coach standing on the far right of the top row is my life-long buddy (and a great former AHS football player in his own right) Tony Greco. When you ask Tony what it was like to coach this team, he just smiles. Who the hell wouldn’t!
Answer to Question No. 16: Lester Rivera had a combination of speed and strength that reminded me more than just a little of Justice Smith, the great Amsterdam High and Boston College back. Like Smith, Rivera always seemed to turn his game up a notch against the toughest competition and also when games were on the line. During that State Championship season, which was Rivera’s senior year, he rushed for close to 1,200 yards and had his three best games during the team’s playoff run. I remember crying when I heard the news that Lester Rivera had been killed in a single car accident on the morning of January 6, 2013 while on his way to work in Albany, NY.
Answer to Question No. 17: It wasn’t uncommon for opponents of the 2005 State Champion Amsterdam High School football team to forget about Tommy McDermott. That squad featured my pick for the greatest passing combination in Rugged Ram history, QB T.J. Czeski and the phenomenal AHS receiver, Vinnie Nicosia. But McDermott was the tough unsung hero of that offense, consistently grinding out tough yardage on the ground in key situations game after game. That’s why it was so nice to see the spotlight fall on him that year in the Carrier Dome with his thrilling half-a-field long dash to pay dirt.
Answer to Question No. 18: In the 2007 regular season finale against Averill Park, Brian Davey ran for 278 yards and three touchdowns against the Warriors and then the very next week against them in the playoffs he scored four more times and rushed for another 107 yards. He would finish just 12 yards shy of the 1,000 yard rushing mark that season.
Answer to Question No. 19: Darien Ward wowed Amsterdam High School football fans game after game during the 2000-01 Rugged Ram season with his speed and power running from the tailback position. His 1,501 rushing yards that year broke the great Justice Smith’s school record.
Answer to Question No. 20: The correct answer is “c“. Brothers Richie & Mike Altieri (pictured above) were both outstanding players for the Rugged Rams but only younger sibling Mike ran the ball during his gridiron career in high school. Richie’s domains were the offensive and defensive lines, where he became one of the greatest two-way linemen in school history during his junior and senior seasons in 1995 and ’96. Mike also played on both sides of the ball but it was at running back where his spotlight shined brightest. He had plenty of great games but none were better than his performance in the 2002 Class A title game of the Section II Football Tournament. He bashed in for three touchdowns from his fullback position to lead the Rugged Rams to a 28-7 victory. As for the other sibling answer choices: a) Mike and Cappy Wells both played other positions during their outstanding football careers at Scully including running back; b) Bryan and Dale Stanavich are hands down the greatest set of sibling high school running backs in Amsterdam history and most likely hold that same distinction for the entire Capital District. d) Bill and Dave Whelly were both valuable running backs for Dutch Howlan-led Scully squads. Bill in the late sixties and Dave in the early seventies; e) I was friends with the older brother of Pete and John Paul Capel. When they were both just toddlers, my buddy would have to babysit them from time to time and they’d always be running away from him outside their Caroline Street home. Come to find out they were both just prepping for their careers as running backs for the Amsterdam Rams.
Amsterdam’s GOAT: On his first ever play from scrimmage as a freshman in 1988, he took the ball 79 yards for the score. He just kept going from there. He played four seasons of varsity for Coach Frank Derrico’s Rams and when he graduated, he had established a new Section II career rushing yards record of 4,124 yards. At the time, that was 800 yards more than the next runner on the all-time list. His 1991 team went 11-0 and would have walked away with a State Championship if one existed back then. Name an award, this guy won it. Pick a high school all-American team, he was on it. He also played the game the right way when he was on the field and a class act off it as well. Recruited heavily by several Division I schools, he chose Boston College. I took my family to watch him play in the 1995 Kickoff Classic against Ohio State and will never forget the amazing game he had that afternoon at the Meadowlands. If he didn’t get hurt, I’m certain he would have been a collegiate All-American and an NFL draft pick. Justice Smith was the real deal.