Skip to primary navigation Skip to main content

High school football: Day One from Iroquois, Canisius and North Tonawanda

The Buffalo News is scattering across Western New York to bring you complete coverage of the first day of high school football practice.

I'll be making scheduled stops at Iroquois, Canisius and North Tonawanda throughout the day -- three schools with rich football histories and brand new head coaches. Well, somewhat all three, the new coach was promoted from within the program.

Stay tuned for updates, and feel free to add your thoughts in the comments section, or shoot me a tweet @samkilb.

8:26 a.m. After two false starts (some construction at the school threw me off...that's my story) I've spotted some guys with pads at Iroquois...let's see how they're handling day one.

8:45 a.m. Coach Marshall addressing both teams in the auditorium. He means business. No nonsense, high goals. I'll be speaking with him shortly.

9:00 a.m. Chalk talk in Iroquois, Marshall hands out playbooks...without a single play in them. The players have to draw them in themselves. Not a bad idea. (They have some terminology in them, Coach Marshall wanted to make sure I clarified. "They won't be blank by Friday," he said.)

9:35 a.m. New Iroquois coach Keith Marshall, who was promoted to this job from the school's JV team after previous Coach Payne stepped aside, said he expects the transition to go smoothly.

"It's been a busy, really exciting summer," Marshall, who moved up from junior varsity with about 30 players, said. "Moving up with them has been a bonus, especially in terms of familiarity with the offense, with the system, with the things that I expect on and off the field."

Marshall said there would be plenty of similarities in how he runs the program and how it was run before. "I learned an awful lot from Coach Payne, I worked with him for ten years and I have a termendous amount of respect for what he taught me," he said. "I'm about similar things in coaching. I'm about keeping the kids safe, being successful and having fun. And we're going to accomplish those three goals this year."

Marshall is going into his 11th year coaching at Iroquois, and as a result, he feels the transition has gone well. The players agree.

"He's been with the program for awhile now, and I've had him since modified," senior wide receiver Madison Wesolowski said. "So I know him, he knows the routine of what we do."

Senior lineman Brandon Vernen said the hard work in the summer paid off.

"I think it's going really smoothly," he said. "Both coaches have their similarities and differences. But Coach Marshall, he's very enthusiastic and he knows how to get the job done."

On the field, changes in personnel will lead to  different skill set for this years Iroquois team.

"We're going to be a smaller team, but faster," senior lineman Casey Erhardt said. He added that the team could certainly live up to Marshall's goal of being the smartest in the division. "All the juniors coming up really know their stuff...we're young, but we're also smart, and we're active, so it should be good."

Next stop: Canisius

10:03 a.m.

No trouble finding Canisius' space in West shells already out, but no pads yet.

11:20 a.m. New head coach Rich Robbins wanted to wait until his Crusaders finished morning problem. There's a lot of excitement surrounding this team this year, and Robbins said his goal is, plain and simple, to win the league.

Robbins said he'll likely stay on the ground more than his predecessor, utilizing weapons like senior Canadian RB Mercer Timmis and enormous linemen Jack Plunkett and new boy Ryan Hunter, who signed on from Canada this year. But he'll also pass, he said, because the team has some speed on the flanks.

Senior quarterback Chris Jugovic will be under center as the starter for the first time this season, after lasyear's quarterback graduated. "It feels great, I'm ready," Jugovic said. "We've got a great team, we're gonna be good."

Jugovic has gotten looks from schools like the University at Buffalo and Akron, as well as Yale and West Virginia. He says he doesn't have a preference, and is hoping the season can bring some good offers.

He'll be handing the ball off to Timmis, who has drawn attention from schools in the Big East, ACC and MAC. Timmis said he's focusing on the season and will make a decision sometime after it's finished.

Plunkett, too, is getting some big time looks. His top five at the moment are Connecticut, Syracuse, UB, Bowling Green and Navy.

One sure to get some looks after this season is mammoth Canadian lineman Ryan Hunter (the coaches were somewhat disappointed that word of his arrival had leaked out on this blog, but as another remarked during a water break: "You can't hide our 6-4, 300-pound lineman forever."). 

"Part of it was to play football here, but the other half was academics, because I know Canisius is one of the top academic schools in the state of New York," Hunter said of his switch. "I mean, football can only last so long, so I gotta get a good education and to me, Canisius could offer the best education I could find."

He hasn't had much attention from Division I schools yet, but plenty from Division III. He's hoping this season will help put him on the map. "I'm not looking for any offers yet, just to get my name out there really," Hunter said. "Hopefully, they'll notice me this year and by my senior year the coaches will start contacting me, and then we'll start talking about offer and scholarships and things like that."

For Robbins' part, he says the transition from defensive coordinator to head coach has gone well.

"I didn't get hired until mid-May, which is always a challenge because we really had to get things going quickly," he said. "But we had good systems and good things in place, and a good group of seniors that really kind of kept the weight room and everything going in the offseason."

He says the organization and the way camp and meetings are run will be similar to how they were in the past. "But obviously, I'm the defensive coordinator, and I'm the head coach now so defensive practice time will be a little more even than it might have been in the past," he said.

"And we really are going to get back to running the football," he added. "With Mercer Timmis and some of the lineman we have, we really feel like that's one of the strengths of our team. And Western New York, you never know with the wind and the weather."

Again, promoting from within the ranks has allowed for an easy transfer. 

"It's been pretty good, since he was on our staff last year," Timmis said. "We've all been working together, and it's been a pretty good off-season."

"He's real energetic about the program, real excited about it," Plunkett said. "He brought a lot of new excitement to it."

One other change: No more sleepaway camp in the preseason. "Practice times are almost identical to what we did last year," Robbins said. "I just kinda wanted to let them get home at night and see their folks."

Next stop: North Tonawanda

12:05 p.m. Made it to NT, though construction this time doomed me to a long walk. Practice in full swing.

1:15 p.m. Just spoke with North Tonawanda head coach Rick Tomm, who has been in the North Tonawanda school district for 19 years, and has coached at every level of football. The biggest change in transitioning to be the head honcho? 

"A lot more emails," he cracked. 

But in all seriousness, he felt the leadership of the seniors has made his job pretty easy.

"The transition's been great because of the kids, to be honest with you. Our senior class is exceptional," he said. 

The players say they're happy to do their part, and the transition has gone well because of the familiarity with the program.

"We try to help out the younger guys who don't know what they're doing, and we try to make them leaders, too" said senior cornerback/running back Shaun O'Lay.

"He's stepped up to the plate, and he knows what he's doing," junior fullback/linebacker Tyler Durham said. 

The Jacks put in plenty of hours over the summer leading up to the first day of practice. "We've been going pretty hard, the intensity's been crazy," said senior defensive end/guard Evan Volmrich. "Everyone's getting stronger, bigger, faster. Everyone's out here going hard, and that's what we're focused on. We'll work out the kinks later."

Tomm said that leadership and physical condition are the strong suits of his team.

"We're going to be really in-shape and strong," he said. Youth and a lack of speed in some key areas are what he views as the Jacks' main weaknesses.

Tomm said that other than having to handle the administrative duties, everything will be virtually the same as in the past. "We're not gonna change what's been successful," Tomm said, adding that most of the staff remains from former coach Eric Jantzi's tenure. "A couple different wrinkles, offensively and defensively. We're always gonna play hard, we're always gonna play as a team. That's what we've always been, and we're not going to change that at all." 

1:25 p.m. My shift is up, so I'll be wrapping up here and filling out the above sections with some more details and quotes, as promised. As always, stay tuned to the Prep Talk blog for complete coverage of high school football.

--Sam Kilb


Canisius | Football | High school football | Iroquois | North Tonawanda
comments powered by Disqus

About Prep Talk

Keith McShea

Keith McShea

Keith McShea has covered high school sports at The News since his hiring in 1999. The 1995 University at Buffalo graduate and Long Island native (North Babylon Bulldogs) covers — and live blogs — everything from scrimmages to state championships & helps head The News' All-Western New York selections.

@KeithMcSheaBN |