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St. Francis football trying to pave its own way with speed, tempo

FOOTBALL 2013 BEGINS — St. Francis running backs go through a sprint drill during the opening day of practices on Monday (Aug. 19). The Red Raiders will look to some of that speed and athleticism during a daunting Monsignor Martin slate. Photos by Michael Petro
HAMBURG — Those who are high school football fans and have not heard about all of the talent at Canisius High School, heading into the 2013 season, have to have been living under a rock for the past several months.

Already with Western New York’s most recruited player in running back Qadree Ollison, the Crusaders garnered some major additions in the offseason, with Sweet Home standout Brad Zaffram’s coming over to the Buffalo city school and transfers T.J. and Terius Wheatley deciding to attend that school, as well.

The Wheatley family moved to Orchard Park when father, Tyrone, a former NFL running back, came to the Bills from Syracuse University as part of new coach Doug Marrone’s staff.

 Canisius, who’s already been lauded with a national ranking this offseason, leads a Monsignor Martin league that looks to be as competitive as it’s ever been, with St. Joe’s also touting some highly-ranked talent and league finalist Timon, as well as St. Mary’s coming off statement seasons.

St. Francis has previously been in the position that Canisius finds itself in, currently, with a star-studded roster that has put the Red Raiders front and center in WNY preseason football talk.

Coming off a loss in the semifinals to last year’s league champion Canisius, the Red Raiders may not be surrounded with the same hype, but according to those keeping a close eye on the action, counting out the 12-time football league champions since 1991 would be a mistake.

ELUSIVE — Pictured, above top: Frontier senior quarterback Tyler Gaglia cradles the ball and goes for a run, during a drill on day two of the Falcons’ preseason camp on Aug. 20. Senior Robbie Miller, pictured directly above, runs down the left sideline, during a drill at Hamburg on the opening day of football practices, which were held on Aug. 19. Look for more preseason coverage in next week’s edition. The Sun’s annual football preview edition will be released on Thursday, Sept. 5, just in time for the start of the season, that weekend. Photos by Michael Petro.
“Everybody knows that some guys are getting the pub right now, which is fine, but we’ve always said from day one — even when we were the ones getting the pub like that, it’s not where you start, it’s how you finish,” said St. Francis 26th-year Head Coach Jerry Smith, who noted that the attention Canisius has garnered is well deserved.

“At the beginning, everybody has got visions of grandeur, but at the end, there’s only going to be one team standing, so we’ll see,” he added. “It’s a long season. Getting to that championship game, you’re talking 11 games and a lot of things can happen, so you never know. We’ll do the best we possibly can and hopefully, we’re there with a chance at the end.”

St. Francis has got some speed and highly-ranked athletes of its own and will use its assets with a more up-tempo style that will consistently test opponents on both sides of the ball, even a group such as Canisius.

“I don’t think anyone outside of us knows who we are yet,” said senior quarterback Jake Dolegala, who is slated to be one of three captains for this year’s team, after coming off a full offseason of work. “I think we’ll have a good team, this year. The offseason went well and now we’re just trying to put things together. I’m ready to surprise people.”

With Dolegala under center, the offense will attempt to move with a quicker pace — using some no huddle and incorporating a plethora of different players. It certainly will not look like the Red Raiders of more recent seasons, according to senior Mike Miller.

“It’s not going to be the traditional St. Francis team of the past 10 years or so,” said the athlete, a standout safety last year, who will also see time at receiver in 2013. “We’ve definitely got new schemes on both sides of the ball, so it will be interesting for everyone else and us, for sure. If we can make it work, I think it will be a lot of fun.”

Smith said that he is looking to his guys up front, who may lack a little bit of size, to show grit, so that the offense can run smoothly and efficiently, but the group remains a work in progress.

“We’ve got some guys there and, if they turn out to be as tough as we hope they are, that’s going be the key to our whole offense; how they gel,” Smith said. “It will be a nice challenge for them, because we’re not going to have the size we normally do. We’ve got to be nasty.”

Senior lineman Ryan Zulawski said that he believes this group has a solid head start on that concept, considering the work players put in, during the offseason.

“We came a long way since last year; a lot more offseason work,” he said. “Right now, we’re just trying to get sound with the techniques and come in and have a great first day. I think we’re a lot tighter and that’s from the offseason work. A lot more people have been here and around each other.”

The coaching staff will attempt to further strengthen that bond by using Woodlawn Beach for practice one day, to team build by running on the sand and playing bocce ball and horseshoes. Smith said that he is also planning days in which his team will watch an inspirational film and on another day, hear from a motivational speaker.

“It is about football, but there are some ways you can do it and still enjoy it and learn from people who have been successful,” Smith said.

Smith said that he already liked what he saw, when day one of practice came to a close. He added that he hopes to continue seeing players give full effort when asked, and be attentive when instructed.

“One thing we preach to them is that they can control their attitude and effort,” he said. “Everything else they have no control over, so one of the good things I am seeing is that they do have a good attitude and are giving good effort.

“We’re going to have to coach even a little bit more than we usually do, but we’re looking forward to it,” he added.

Also locally, Hamburg and Lake Shore began practices under new head coaches. Pat Cauley has taken over at Hamburg and Drew Takacs is the new Lake Shore head coach. Both teams look to get back to the postseason in Class A.

Meanwhile, Frontier and Eden got started with hopes of returning to the playoffs and going even farther, this season. Both return many of the major pieces from last year’s teams — Frontier a semifinalist in Class A and Eden a division champion in Class B South, before falling in its playoff opener.


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