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Kensington Lions All-Star Football Preview: Playing for South in marquee game remains high honor

The South team will be counting on the talent of Cleveland Hill’s Daryl Spencer, who here takes a practice hand-off at Hamburg High School in preparation for the Kensington Lions all-star football game on Wednesday, July 25 in Depew.
Some might say the Kensington Lions all-star football game has lost a bit of its luster. The highly-anticipated annual summer contest that once brought together most of the best recently graduated high school seniors among the Western New York talent pool has endured some notable absences.

But try telling that to Mike Harris. The recent Frontier High School graduate needs no convincing of just how important of an opportunity it is to play in the football classic in its 37th year.

Originally not on the South team’s roster, Harris received a call that a spot had opened from his former Frontier teammate Kevin McGivern after a fellow Falcons’ running back and defensive back had dropped out for personal reasons.

Harris seized the opportunity joining McGivern and the South squad for practices in preparation for the game against the North senior all-star team Wednesday, July 25 starting 7 p.m. at Depew High School.

Take it from a player that nearly didn’t get the chance to play in this game, it is still a very big deal.

“I kind of was a backup guy, but after our teammate couldn’t do it, Kevin gave me a call and said, ‘hey, you might get in the all-star game,’” said Harris on Monday (July 16) before a South team practice, which are being held at Hamburg High School’s Howe Field. “I was at work when this happened and I became like a little kid at Christmas. Another chance to play football before college is just awesome.”

While the Mohawk Valley Community College-bound Harris is still hopeful he’ll one day play college football, for most this game continues to be a final showcase before playing at the next level, whether it be in Division I, II or III. It remains a great honor to compete against one another as they wrap up their high school playing days.

“It’s an awesome experience to be in this game and playing with guys that we’ll be playing against in college,” said McGivern, who will play linebacker for Division II Lock Haven next year. He may also play some tight end in the all-star game, as he did at Frontier. “You meet a lot of them now and then have a chance to play against them in college and see how they progress.”

South offensive lineman Mitch Eck of Eden sees the opportunity as a nice pay off for many seasons of hard work during high school.

“It’s great to see all of these awesome football players out here who tried so hard the entire football season and throughout high school and now we’re all together for one last game,” said Eck, who plans to play at SUNY Oswego State. “We’re going to try our best. I know we’re practicing hard to get ready to take on the North.”

As enjoyable of an experience as it may be, there is still a game to be played, and pride is on the line between the two sides. Both squads have been preparing in the heat since last week, installing offensive plays and defensive schemes, while game planning for one another.

“These guys have taken very well to the preparation and we’ve got one more week to go before we wrap things up and see what happens,” said South’s head coach David Hersey, who heads the St. Mary’s football program. “We’ve got a great group of kids and some great athletes. I’m really looking forward to it.”

Four days into practices, Hersey was happy with the way his players have absorbed what amounts to be a great deal of information to take in over a short period of time.

“They’re all stars for a reason, and I’m really excited to watch them play,” Hersey said. “It’s not really like coaching your own team (in high school).”

Hersey has certainly not taken this game lightly, starting his preparation in the spring with the help of his father, Tom, who will serve in the same role he does at St. Mary’s as offensive coordinator. Hersey said his father had set into place much of the game plan by April.

“Our job is to try to prepare the kids for what they’re going to see and with the offense that we’re going to run, then turn them loose,” he said. “That’s really what it’s all about. More than anything, with these kids playing in their last high school game, I’d like to believe they’re going to go out there and be willing to do it for their teammates.”

Harris said on defense learning one another’s style, habits and strengths and grasping the hand signals from the sideline as to what defense to be in on the field are the main points of emphasis. On the other side of the ball, McGivern noted that players are learning on the fly a new offense and its terminology, while getting to know each other.

Despite lacking the depth that the team may have enjoyed in years past — with most players from southern tier schools not participating this season, Hersey has seen each athlete in the group raise the level of their games in support of one another.

He’s especially taken notice of the athleticism of Cleveland Hill’s Daryl Spencer, who is also a state champion in the 400 meters in outdoor track and field. Spencer has shown off his prowess as a defensive back with a number of aggressive plays and interceptions in practice. With Spencer’s ability to make plays, Hersey also plans to use him in the wildcat formation on offense. In addition, Hersey’s been pleasantly surprised by the leadership qualities of Spencer.

“We’ve got to get the ball in the kids’ hands,” Hersey noted of Spencer. “He’s very dynamic.”

On offense, Timon-St. Jude’s Jordan Williams, who also was not on the original roster, has been a welcome addition to the South with his ability out wide. Hersey believes the Edinboro-bound Williams should and could eventually be a Division I athlete.

“He catches everything; he’s picking everything up real quick; and he’s one of our leaders for sure on the offense,” said Hersey, who is coaching the defensive backs but has taken a moment or two to sneak a peak at his offense.

That offense will also include quarterbacks Aaron Ertle of Depew and Corey DeWald of Cheektowaga, along with Alden’s Justin Patterson and Depew’s Joe Miller at tailback and West Seneca West’s Pat Braunscheidel at fullback.

Among the South’s lineman are Casey Erhardt of Iroquois, Mike Morganstern of Cheektowaga, Kyle DiPirro of St. Mary’s, Andrew Burgio of Depew, Josh Chase of Alden, Jordan Kihl of Lancaster and Jason Christ of JFK.

Other locals from the South include Lancaster’s Jake Latello (WR/DB), Cleveland Hill’s Davonte Davis (LB/S), JFK’s Ryan Ball (LB/S), Cheektowaga’s Dante Burnett (LB/S), West Seneca East’s Dakota Michels (TE/LB) and St. Mary’s Erik O’Neill (S).

Hersey has been aided in preparing the defense by Hamburg assistant coach Pat Cauley. His other assistants are Tim Delaney, South Park head coach,John Kaniecki, St. Mary’s assistant, and Eric Jantzi, Orchard Park assistant.

It’s no secret that the South is game planning in an attempt to at least slow down University at Buffalo-bound Jordan Johnson of Sweet Home. The explosive dual-threat quarterback should have plenty of opportunities to shine as well with his high school coach, John Faller, running the North team.

“He’s definitely the guy,” Hersey said. “It’s not like we’re putting a target on him but we’re very aware of him and we’ve been preparing for him to run the ball as well as pass it. He’s talented at both. He could do anything. He’s the true double threat.”

His players know it full well. When asked what the defense needs to do, without hesitation, Harris said, “Keep Jordan Johnson between the tackles.”

The defenses will already have their work cut out for them with the game’s rules favoring the offense. This year, teams can run a 4-3 defense, instead of just five down lineman and two linebackers, so Hersey expects the game to open up even further.

What it all comes down to in the end though remains simple — enjoy the experience of being able to take part in such a big game. “We want to have some fun,” McGivern said.

“Yeah, most of all, we do want to have fun,” Harris agreed.

North team may have speed but also don’t lack for size

By Mike Pidanek

Much of the talk about the North team coming into the 37th Annual Kensington Lions All-Star Football Classic has been about the North’s speed, but a number of standout linemen are expected to be difference makers in the highly-anticipated annual senior all-star classic.

“I think our linemen on offense and defense are working real hard,” said North coach John Faller, who has led Sweet Home to five straight Section VI championships in Class A. “Right now, they look pretty good.”

Athletes from Sweet Home, Williamsville, Clarence, Ken-Ton, Buffalo and Niagara County will represent the North in the annual all-star game. The contest will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 25 at Depew High School.

The North side will certainly not lack for size. Among the sizeable lineman up front include seven players listed at 280 pounds or more on the North roster, including Justin Davis of Bennett, T.J. Scamurra of Williamsville South, Mike Arcuri of Clarence, Brandon Lathrop of Kenmore West, Marquel Foster of Bennett, Max Rosales of Hitch Tech and Durshron Sanders of Niagara Falls.

The line will certainly be a strength, but the players up front will have plenty of weapons to block for as well.

The skill positions are going to be stacked for the North side with four University at Buffalo recruits likely to see the football in their hands. Sweet Home quarterback Jordan Johnson, Clarence running back Mike Gelz, Amherst running back/wide receiver Brandon Borden and Nichols tight end Tom Noonan are the future Bulls on the squad.

“They’re all standouts,” Faller said of his team – and the opposing one as well. “I have to wait and see who comes out and makes the plays in the game. But I’d have to say all the kids are playing hard on both sides of the field.”

And while this may not carry the significance of a playoff game, make no mistake, it is more than just a routine exhibition.

“We want guys to come out and play hard,” Faller said. “You want to win. It’s not a life or death game, but they’re here to compete and when you compete you want to win. So we’re going to come out and play hard on both sides of the ball.”

Tickets for the game are $7 for adults and $2 for children 12 and under. They can be obtained through players and coaches in the game as well as at the stadium on game day.

More information is available at kensingtonlions.org.
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