No. 44 Chris Finney
SPRINGVILLE — The Springville-Griffith Institute varsity football is coming off its first win of the season, after beating previously-undefeated Pioneer Central School 14 – 13 in the Griffs’ homecoming game held Friday, Sept. 28.
Playing in his third homecoming game was Chris Phinney, who began playing football when he was 9 years old.
He has been on S-GI’s varsity team since his sophomore year and has been a “two-way” starter, each year. Phinney has been the team’s starting fullback and starting middle linebacker. He is one of two players who have played for Coach John Sopko when he started as coach in 2010 and installed the triple-option.
“He was recognized from the get-go as the team’s fullback as we installed the option, which is a fullback-out offense,” Sopko said. “He understands, accepts the reality that his effectiveness is fundamental to the offense. Being tackled is as good as a block.”
Phinney said, “Since I play fullback in an option offense, I’ve grown to love running the ball up the middle. I actually prefer it, because I always love the contact. I love to make tacklers pay. I’d much rather run through somebody than around them.”
Left guard Reed Lipowicz has been blocking for Phinney for the last two years and said that his teammate makes him and his fellow lineman “look better.
“The way that he reads blocks makes us lineman look good,” Lipowicz said. “He’s got great vision. He can really see a hole, put his foot in the ground and hit it.”
The quarterback and fullback have the most responsibility, in Sopko’s offense. Quarterback Billy Dickinson said that having Phinney around has helped him out a lot.
“He makes me better,” Dickinson said. “He will always tell me if I made a bad read. If I make a mistake or make a bad dive read, it’s nice to know that I have a guy who runs with an ‘I dare you to tackle me’ type mindset and we can still get 4 or 5 yards.”
Last year, Phinney was named defensive most valuable player and made second team all-division, as a linebacker. The student is also chasing former S-GI player Mike Amodeo for the all-time tackles record, set in 1996.
“Defensively, from the get-go, our middle backer has the responsibility for making the majority of tackles,” Sopko said.
Phinney, the leading tackler on the team this season, has led a group that is ranked No. 2 in Class B, by allowing 69 points through 5 games. The team also ranks 10th out of all the Section VI teams.
“On defense, we want to stop the opposing offence and, as the leader of our defense, I always make sure we shut down the run, which we have done every game this season,” Phinney said.
During the last two years, playing as a junior and senior, Phinney has not had any serious injuries or missed great lengths of time on the field. But it was not always this way, as he started his first season on varsity with an injury.
“My sophomore season, I sprained my ankle in our scrimmage. I had to sit on the sidelines for the first three games of my first season on varsity,” he said. “Sitting on the sidelines was excruciating, for me. I just can’t stand having no control over the outcome of a game.”
Phinney is in a “coach’s cabinet,” which was designed by Sopko to address issues before they are heard by the coaching staff. The cabinet is made up of Lipowicz, Dave DeLuca, Ethan Benz, Dickinson and Phinney. Sopko said that he likes Phinney’s leadership in the cabinet, at practices and on the field during games.
“At practice, he works hard and sets an example as a great role model,” Sopko said. “He makes you look bad if you are not working as hard. He has never been a problem at practice or games.” The senior played in his final homecoming game on Friday night, after a 14 – 13 win against Pioneer.
“I was ecstatic. I couldn’t hold in my emotions, especially after the past three years of losing to them,” Phinney said. “It felt so good to knock them down a peg. I just love football so much, because it’s unlike any other sport. The whole team needs to work together to win. A football team isn’t really just a team. It’s a family. On that field, I’ve made some of the best memories I’ll never forget.”
Phinney said that he plans on attending Alfred State College for construction management, where he wants to continue playing football.
“He makes me laugh a lot more than may be apparent,” Sopko said. “I’ll always remember his ‘okie dokie’ response. His presence will be difficult to replace.”