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St. Francis making strides in picking up schemes

ON THE RETURN — Elliot Buccieri will be an important part to the St. Francis offense and defense, as well as on special teams. Photo by Ron Larson.
If St. Francis hopes to keep up with elite and improving programs of the Monsignor Martin, speed will be the name of its game in 2013.

In order to stay with two of the projected best teams in Western New York like Canisius and St. Joe’s, as well as what promises to be tough teams in St. Mary’s and Timon, the Red Raiders will need to utilize its athleticism and the hastened pace with which they plan to play.

This may not be your typical St. Francis grind it out on the ground type of team that’s won so many league championships in year’s past, but it promises to be an exciting group whose high tempo could be a handful for opponents. That is, once St. Francis itself gets comfortable with the pace.

“Right now, the kids are gaining confidence as they get to play faster and faster and get to know they’re assignments,” said Jerry Smith, who enters his 26th season as St. Francis head coach. “We’ve challenged them and they’ve responded. They’re willing to learn and work at it.”

Smith is beginning to see the fruits of the labor from offseason work and practices in preseason as his players are now running to the ball defensively and holding down their assignments and alignments on offense with more consistency.

In addition to maintaining a certain pace to the offense, he also wants to see a quick defense that’s consistently flying to the ball and being aggressive. Smith said he wants all 11 players to be punishers.

“We’re coming together and we have been picking it up more and more…So, it is very promising,” noted Smith, whose team came back from an 0-7 start last year to win three straight, including its MMAA playoff opener, before falling to eventual champion Canisius in a semifinal.

Senior Jake Dolegala steps into the starting quarterback role full-time. After putting in a great deal of work in the offseason, he’ll be the leader of the offense and make it go, according to Smith, but the line must also mesh to provide pass protection and spark a running game.

Dolegala’s main target will be senior Elliot Buccieri, St. Francis’ “do-it-all” player, who’s also a defensive back, kick returner, punter and kicker. Also among those to be split out wide will be Jamal Johnson, Tyler Kraus and Kordell Holness-Lightbody.

After losing over the past two seasons to graduation, Akeel Lynch, who’s now playing at Penn State, and Alex Misterman (Mercyhurst), the Red Raiders’ most experienced backs will be fullback Manny Lawson, who carried the ball 32 times last year, and tailback Devantie Campbell (33 carries in 2012). Joining them in the backfield will be sophomore Ty Lawson, a receiver last season, and Mike Williams, who’s up from the junior varsity.

The offensive line will be led by senior captain Ryan Zulawski, who will be joined by talented newcomers such as Brien Pacholec and 6-foot-5 Austin Taylor. The line will play a big part in the offense’s success, according to Smith.

“Getting down the combo blocks seems to take the longest time, but they’re putting in a good effort on that,” he said. “Like everywhere else, the line will determine what happens with the whole team. If they don’t do their jobs, it’s going to be a long afternoon [or night].”

Adam Valenti, who finished last season so strongly, will be looked to in leading the defensive unit from his line spot, according to Smith. Valenti finished the season leading the team with 12 tackles for losses, including three sacks, and was fourth with 59 tackles.

Zulawski strengthens the defensive line and Williams will lead the linebacking corps. Senior Mike Miller, who was second on the team last year in tackles with 66, returns to safety, along with Nick Weikle. Also in the defensive backfield will be Brandon Misterman, who will join Buccieri at corner.

St. Francis will not play Ohio powers St. Ignatius and Cardinal Mooney, but will get plenty of out-of-league competition, starting at Holy Trinity on Saturday, Sept. 7 in Long Island and continuing with its home opener against Edison Tech of Rochester on Friday, Sept. 13. The schedule also includes playing at Cathedral Prep of Pennsylvania and Rochester-power Aquinas. The Red Raiders begin MMAA play against defending champion Canisius on Sept. 27.

St. Francis At A Glance

Head Coach

Jerry Smith (26th season)

2012 Overview

Overall: 3-8, MMAA: 2-3; Finished fifth of six teams in division; Postseason: defeated 4-St. Mary’s 52-7 in MMAA quarterfinal, lost to Canisius 45-20 in MMAA semifinal at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

League All-Stars Lost

Alex Misterman (RB/DB), Jarrett Dolegala (TE/LB), Jordan Zakroczemski (RB/LB), Dylan McDonald (OL).

The Skinny

This will an exciting St. Francis team to watch with the potential for the aerial attack. However, what may actually determine the Red Raiders fate in a very tough league is the effectiveness of the running game and offensive line.

2012 Schedule

Sept. 1 vs Aquinas L 44-7

Sept. 8 vs Holy Trinity L 42-41

Sept. 15 at St. Joe’s L 28-21

Sept. 21 vs Cathedral Prep L 69-0

Sept. 29 at Canisius L 51-18

Oct. 6 at St. Mary’s L 33-7

Oct. 13 at St. Ignatius L 56-0

Oct. 20 vs Cardinal O’Hara W 39-14

Oct 27 vs Timon-St. Jude W 28-7

Nov. 3 at St. Mary’s W 52-7

Oct 27 vs Canisius L 45-20

2013 Schedule

Sat., Sept. 7 at Holy Trinity 1 p.m.

Fri., Sept. 13 vs Edison Tech 7 p.m.

Fri., Sept. 20 at Cathedral Prep 7 p.m.

Fri., Sept. 27 vs Canisius 7 p.m.

Fri., Oct. 4 vs St. Joe’s 7 p.m.

Sat., Oct. 12 at Cardinal O’Hara 2 p.m.

Fri., Oct. 18 at Aquinas 7 p.m.

Fri., Oct 25 vs St. Mary’s 7 p.m.

Fri., Nov. 1 at Bishop Timon 7 p.m.

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