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Football Preview 2013: Eden’s strength in leaders

RAIDER LEADERS — Pictured above from top, Nick Sarratori and Alex Smythe will be among a large senior leadership group on an close-knit Eden team. Photos by Ron Larson.

There’s a certain presence that already exists this fall on the football field in Eden.

Year in and out, there will be leaders who step up, but not often is their a group that feels this comfortable being around one another and in taking on such a role.

The Raiders not only return a seasoned group but they’re also one that knows each other quite well. In addition to growing up together in the Eden High School system under fifth-year coach Chuck Tilley, many of these same guys played the game side-by-side since their early years in the town’s Little Loop program.

“We’ve got a lot of seniors and we’re excited because we’ve all been together since Little Loop and we all work well and actually have the concepts down, so at this point we’ve just got to put it all together,” said quarterback Nick Sarratori. “We’ve been together so long that even the young guys have blended together with us really well. It just works.”

Before they even entered the high school program, it was the fathers of Sarratori and others like Alex Smythe and John Morrow that, as their sons’ Little Loop coaches, helped build the groundwork for them in the sport and set into motion these friendships.

“Everyone’s close; we grew up playing Little Loop together,” Smythe said. “We’re brothers pretty much; everyone gets along, works hard and pushes each other.”

There have been many leaders among the 14 close-knit seniors on this team, but Tilley noted that Sarratori and Smythe have stood out with the work they’ve put forth during the offseason and what they’ve contributed so far in the preseason.

“I don’t have to yell or scream at these guys,” Tilley said. “You can see it over there, I have one coach running the show [because of their attentiveness].”

“We have others that are doing a good job, but I’m very satisfied with those two kids,” he added. “They have a great work ethic; they don’t just come out here and talk, they do it.”

Smythe, who’s been a starter at running back since his sophomore season, ran for 649 yards last year despite missing three games and was named to the First Team All-Class B South. He was sorely missed by 6-3 Eden, which lost its only regular season game without the hard-running and tough back.

Also a sectional title-winning wrestler, Smythe does all he can to keep himself in shape, according to his coach, who says the senior looks like the Incredible Hulk.

“A lot of us are not really the biggest guys but we’re hoping to bring some power,” Smythe said. “Everyone’s pretty athletic and has been working hard and is in shape.”

Sarratori is also no slouch in the weight room, according to Tilley, who noted that is the place where a lot of the leadership starts. Also, Sarratori has been to a number of camps to improve his game behind center, where he split time last season as a junior. He was named first team all-division as a defensive back.

“We’re going to try to get everyone going and get our offense moving as quick as possible — make sure we stick it out and play tough the whole game,” Sarratori noted.

With Class B going from three divisions to two, both players realize the addition of teams like state semifinalist Alden and a highly-regarded Depew to their schedule will make trying to capture the division title again and advancing to the playoffs for a fifth straight season a difficult task.

“It’s a tough division, but I think we’re more than ready. I think we’ll really give it a good shot,” Sarratori said. “I feel like we could have finished off games a lot better than we did last year and that’s where leadership will help. I feel this year that our seniority and being veterans will help us.”

Even with all of this experience and the success of the past several seasons, Smythe still feels Eden has something to prove going up against such vaunted programs.

“We’re looking pretty good, but we’re taking it one game at a time and we’re just looking to prove ourselves,” Smythe said. “Alden and Depew will be our toughest games but other teams like Olean will be tough, too — they beat us last year. We just have got to go in there and play tough. I think we’re probably underrated. So, we want to make our mark.”

With a roster of only 24, the leadership and skill of Smythe, Sarratori and many of their senior teammates will be so important. They should bring a lot to an offense that returns nearly every key piece from last season.

“And the defense, too,” Tilley was quick to point out. “We’re going to have the same 14 or 15 kids playing. You see what we’ve got. That’s Eden Raiders football. Many guys have to be ready to play the entire game.”

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