Hello and Happy First Day of Football Season to you.
Today is the first day that football teams -- as well as many other fall sports -- can hit the practice field for the 2010-2011 school year.
It is always a big day in football as every program starts its official training after an offseason full of weight room visits, passing leagues and camps, but this season there is a little more buzz in the air due to the addition of Buffalo Public Schools to Section VI. That is a major part of the new year, with new teams and a new alignment for Section VI and a serious test for the city programs.
There's plenty of other things to watch this year: again, Western New York boasts four defending state champions. Canisius returns quarterback Travis Eman to its championship team, while rival St. Joe's has a new coach in Dennis Gilbert and a new QB in junior Chad Kelly, the nephew of the famed Buffalo Bills' Jim. Speaking of quarterbacks, Joe Licata is due to set more passing records for Williamsville South. And there will be plenty more to keep an eye on.
I've got plans to visit a few schools throughout the day. I'm going to start by heading south to Canisius' field in West Seneca and might check out St. Francis and Orchard Park as well. I'm scheduled for a midday stop at Sweet Home and have St. Joe's and Riverside on my target list as well. Should be a fun time. There was an overnight thunderstorm but its another great day in what has been a super summer for Western New York.
Before heading south I'm going to swing by All High Stadium behind Bennett High on Main Street to see if the Tigers -- or any other city school -- has hit the field.
Stay tuned and feel free to file any first-day reports in the comments section below.
9:29 a.m. I pull into All High Stadium and there are some orange t-shirts and white t-shirts among a group working out on the turf. Looks like Bennett has started its season. Back with a report soon.
9:57 a.m. My first goof of the season -- as I got closer to the field, I realized the white helmets and black-and-orange uniforms where those of McKinley. As a group of 30 or 40 went through drills at three different stations, I spoke with defensive coordinator assistant head coach Kenny Boone, a Riverside grad who played at Buffalo State.
"We're very optimistic," said Boone. "In terms of being able to compete, we're at that level from an athletic perspective regarding our kids. But I think it will be a good opportunity for them to see other ball players. I think we'll fit in very well, very well. They're excited now. Guys are ready to go."
McKinley has the All High field from 8 to 11 a.m., so perhaps we'll stop by later to visit with another team. For now, time to head south.
11:28 a.m. We just visited Orchard Park, where the Quakers just finished their morning practice, which they spent mostly on offensive material.
After a huddle, some players spent the break eating their lunch tailgate-style in the parking lot. Coach Gene Tundo and assistant Bob Ferrentino went over some defensive drills that would be used in the afternoon session -- with Tundo running through imaginary drills himself. I think I saw him put a swim move on Ferrentino at one point.
Here's coach Tundo on opening day (wouldn't be opening day without some opening day cliches :-) ):
We have to admit we probably should have to run a few laps for driving to Canisius' field at its Stransky Complex, where the JV was practicing. The varsity is at the school -- I'll take the blame on that one, although it gets a little confusing when you're trying to differentiate the Stransky Complex and Tripi Field and Koessler Field and where they play and where they practice and where they scrimmage. We're hoping to catch the Crusaders during their afternoon set.
Next it's maybe St. Francis, maybe North Tonawanda, maybe both, before hitting Sweet Home.
1:19 p.m. Just arrived at Sweet Home after spending some time at North Tonawanda -- and no, not enough time to swing by St. Francis.
At NT, I was hoping to get a couple of words from coach Eric Jantzi, and I did. "Hi Keith."
Just having some fun with coach there. Jantzi was understandably busy running his practice, from the extensive warmup featuring walks like "Frankenstein" and "Spiderman" to the four-station, and then six-station setup. Jantzi coached the offensive lineman in a simple drill in which he went into serious detail about body position and leverage.
The tone and the energy of the practice was something that you'd expect to see from a defending state champion.
2:30 p.m. Speaking of state champions, the practice at Sweet Home was very business-like as well. They had six and sometimes seven stations going, including two in which players caught not footballs but tennis balls in what appeared to be an agility/hand-eye coordination drill.
There were some cool sights and sounds, but you're going to have to wait for those. Sweet Home was the site of our first episode of PrepTalkTV for the 2010-11 season. I met videographer/reporter Lauren Mariacher at Sweet Home and you'll see the video up here later today.
I'm heading to Canisius next (they had an afternoon session starting at 2:30) with Riverside a definite stop -- they begin at 4 p.m. St. Joe's, Williamsville South and St. Francis are also possibilities.
3:25 p.m. If I played for Canisius, I'd be cut by now. After a quick pit stop home, I thought I'd hit Canisius before Riverside, but as I drove up I saw the last players leaving the field. They go again at 6 tonight, so I'll be back.
4:55 p.m. Had a good stop at Riverside, where coach Tony Truilizio gave a cafeteria full troops a rousing welcome and educated them on how big a season this is for all city football teams.
Here's a portion of what Trulizio told his team.
His take on getting started with the season.
6:15 p.m. Watched the end of the first practice for St. Joe's, then talked with first-year coach Dennis Gilbert and new junior quarterback Chad Kelly.
Here's coach Gilbert -- a 1984 St. Joe's grad who takes over for Bob O'Connor -- answering my question about if there was anything he did at the first practice to put any kind of personal stamp on the program or the new season.
You could definitely pick out Kelly at practice. He's won national NFL Punt, Pass and Kick competitions and the zing on his passes, whether they were deep balls, thrown with his feet quickly planted or thrown on the run. He certainly has commandeered the team already -- you could hear his calls at the line in drills a block or two away around Kenmore Ave.
We're catching up on some multimedia blogging material from our own home sweet home before heading to Williamsville South and finally Canisius.
7:02 p.m. Check that. We're running out of time so we'll hit Canisius on the way to One News Plaza -- we've still got a story to put together for Tuesday's paper. I'm bummed but there's no way I'd get down Main St. to Will South and back to Canisius before their practice ends at 7:45 p.m.
The good news is that video interviews are up from Riverside and St. Joe's. Gotta run.
8:20 p.m. Back in the office after a visit to Canisius, where there were so many wind sprints that I got tired just listening to all of the gasps for air. I have some more video interviews to post but I've got to get some stories for tomorrow's paper done first.
Here is the feedback from Canisius -- my apologies on the wind gusts that whipped up during coach Brandon Harris' talk.
The Canisius setup is unique to all of Western New York, I have to believe, in that the team is actually at a training camp at the Delaware Ave. school. Coach Harris has done that each of his previous three seasons here. The team stays and eats at the school, with three practices held during the day: morning, afternoon and evening.
Having the entire team together for a training camp has to have enormous benefits not only for attention to detail and a player's mindset, but also for team building and camaraderie. While other teams end practice and players go home, Canisius players literally are eating, drinking and sleeping football.
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As promised earlier, here's what we put together after our visit to Sweet Home's opening practice: the season debut of PrepTalkTV.
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Stay tuned throughout the preseason for more updates. We'll be making the rounds on Scrimmage Saturday (Aug. 28) with another blog and video and we'll have our annual season preview -- including video and Web features in addition to our comprehensive special section -- in the week leading up to Week One (Sept. 3-4).
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For the lowdown on the new and evolving commenting format, check the link at the right, read the previous post, or just click here.
taggedCanisius | High school football | McKinley | North Tonawanda | Orchard Park | Riverside | St. Joe's | Sweet Home | Video