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St. Francis Red Raiders looks to reload in defense of title

The 2012 St. Francis High School varsity football team includes, from left, first row: Austin Taylor, David Santana, Mike Miller, Kerrick Woyshner, Elliot Buccieri, Brian Melisz and Ryan Norton. Second row: CJ Bloom, Dylan Sager, Joshua Fisher, Scott Webber, Wayne Warnke, Nate Forys and Ryan Zulawski. Third row: Manny Williams, Jamal Johnson, Brendan Fitzpatrick, Jarrett Dolegala, Alex Misterman, Jordan Zakroczemski and Brendon Misterman. Fourth row: Jake Dolegala, Julyan Coleman, Jackson Price, Ragan Schichtel, Dylan MacDonald, John Sorgi, Devantie Campbell, Conrad Gawronski and Robert Choboy. Missing from photo: Adam Valenti.

When St. Francis dominated a number of games last season, it gave head coach Jerry Smith a chance to see what many of his backup underclassmen were capable of contributing at the varsity level. For many of those players, it was the only time they would hit the field for a team loaded with senior talent and depth.

This season, many of those same players will now be stepping into starting roles in trying to follow a team that finished 8-3 and returned the Monsignor Martin title to Athol Springs. Smith believes there’s enough talent within this group, but it will take some time and effort to begin replacing 21 seniors, eight of whom were named All-Western New York on some level.

“We’ve got some talent; now we just need to get some game experience,” said Smith, who is entering his 25th season as head coach coming off a 12th league title. “Most of our guys are inexperienced game-wise. I think everyone coming back played about two-and-a-half games with the way the scores went. We were able to get them in after halftime, so they have some experience. It’s a new year and they have to step up and be the man.”

While the graduation of now Penn State tailback Akeel Lynch may be the team’s most notable loss, St. Francis may be just as greatly impacted by the graduation of its top six lineman along with some notable presence on the outside of the field.

“Last year’s team is last year’s team, but they can also look back at the legacy of all of the teams that have been here previously,” Smith said. “They can build on all of the successes and that we’ve had some glitches in years past. But this year’s team is a typical St. Francis team. A good group leaves, another good group comes in. You’ve just got to reload and keep battling.”

This group, a smaller one in numbers than most seasons at 29, is one that Smith has already enjoyed coaching. The team has a very different personality than last seasons and is willing to take instruction at each and every turn.

“They listen very well. They really try to do what we ask of them,” Smith said. “It really is fun coaching them because you don’t get guys thinking they know too much. When you tell them to do something, they try to do it. That’s all you can ask.”

Smith is expecting to receive contributions from all of them with everyone slated to play whether it be on offense, defense, special teams or both sides of the ball. He’ll need most to play at least on one side and serve as relief for the starter on the other side of the ball.

Smith will be counting on several players who were on the field for more than just mop up duties. Of those players, Brian Melisz returns for a third year as the starting quarterback, Alex Misterman was a playmaker on defense as a cornerback and ably stepped in to spell Lynch at tailback, and Jarrett Dolegala started at both outside linebacker and tight end.
Brian Melisz begins his third season as St. Francis starting quarterback on Saturday (Sept. 1) as the Red Raiders host Section V power Aquinas. (Photo by Ron Larson)

Melisz, who was more of a game manager in an offense that featured the Monsignor Martin record-breaking back, should get an opportunity to throw the ball more often, while Misterman broke out for 700 yards in limited time in the backfield. Dolegala, who will be a co-captain and three-year starter on defense, may have the most high-level college potential on the team, according to Smith.

Also seeing significant time last season were senior co-captain Jim Sorgi, who steps into the center position and will play some linebacker and classmate Jordan Zakroczemski, who will be back at outside linebacker. He’ll also see significant time at fullback this season.

Stepping in for the likes of First Team All-Western New York offensive linemen Joe Smith and Miles Bartholomew will be senior Dylan McDonald at tackle and junior Ryan Zulawski. St. Francis may not have an offensive line with the size and experience of last seasons but Smith likes the commitment, strength and smarts of this year’s group.

“They just have to execute and get that confidence together to realize that they are pretty good,” the veteran head coach said.

Seniors Josh Fisher and Scott Webber move into starting roles on the defensive line and Sweet Home junior transfer Julyan Coleman will play at free safety, along with seeing time at wide receiver. Junior transfers from Canada, Devantie Campbell and Jamal Johnson, should also help at the skilled positions as the two talented athletes adjust to playing at a higher level of football in the United States.

Many of the new starters won’t have very long before they face the first of many challenges as part of an always daunting schedule for St. Francis. The Red Raiders start the season Saturday, Sept. 1 hosting Section V powerhouse Aquinas, which has beaten Monsignor Martin teams 22 straight times. Last year, St. Francis played Aquinas very tough but after Lynch went down to a sprained ankle late in the first half, the host Little Irish pulled away for a 34-20 win.

In what may be a very evenly matched Monsignor Martin, the schedule will include a contest with an up-and-coming Timon-St. Jude squad, a rematch with league finalist St. Joe’s and an always tough rival in Canisius.

Among All-Western New York selections lost from last year are also Second Team linemen John Denecke and Alex Cauley, Third Team linebacker Cody Buchanon and honorable mentions at receiver and defensive back Dom Buccieri and David Call.

St. Francis at a Glance

Head Coach

Jerry Smith (25th season)

2011 Overview

Overall: 8-3, MMAA: 3-1; Finished second of six teams in division; Postseason: defeated Timon-St. Jude 53-8 in MMAA semifinals, defeated St. Joe’s 37-16 in MMAA final.

League All-Stars Lost

Akeel Lynch (RB), Miles Bartholomew (OL), John Denecke (OL), Joe Smith (OL/DE), Cody Buchanon (LB), Will Hudson (DB), David Call (WR/DB), Dom Buccieri (WR/DB/K), Zach Wells (RB/DB), Jeff Basty (OL), Alex Cauley (DL), Derek Freitas (LB), Matt Morcio (DL).

The Skinny

St. Francis lost 21 seniors from a dominant team last season, but if any team could recoup in time to make a run it’s this program.

2011 Results

Sept. 3 vs Liverpool W 35-14

Sept. 10 at Holy Trinity W 55-20

Sept. 17 vs Aquinas L 34-20

Sept. 23 vs Fairview W 43-7

Oct. 1 vs St. Joe’s L 27-20

Oct. 7 at Timon-St. Jude W 42-27

Oct. 15 vs St. Ignatius L 21-20 (OT)

Oct. 22 at Cardinal O’Hara W 63-12

Oct. 29 vs Canisius W 56-8

Nov. 12 vs. Timon-St. Jude W 53-8

Nov. 18 vs. St. Joe’s W 37-16

2012 Schedule

Sat., Sept. 1 vs Aquinas 7 p.m.

Sat., Sept. 8 vs Holy Trinity 1 p.m.

Sat., Sept. 15 at St. Joe’s 2 p.m.

Fri., Sept. 21 vs Cathedral Prep 7 p.m.

Sat., Sept. 29 at Canisius 2 p.m.

Sat., Oct. 6 at St. Mary’s 1 p.m.

Sat., Oct. 13 at St. Ignatius 7 p.m.

Sat., Oct. 20 vs Cardinal O’Hara 7 p.m.

Sat., Oct 27 vs Timon-St. Jude 7 p.m.


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