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First day of practice: St. Joe's (with video interviews)

Coach Dennis Gilbert closes the first day of practice by addressing the St. Joe's players. (Keith McShea/Buffalo News)
If this post were a player, it would have had to run some serious laps. Here's some info from our stop -- albeit late -- from our visit to St. Joe's on Day One of practice.

St. Joe' went from 4-8 p.m., and I caught the end of practice, which included a LOT of running. Players went back and forth from sideline to sideline ... over and over and over. Coaching altruisms flew through the air. "The harder you go today, the easier it will be tomorrow." 

Obviously the major storyline in the preseason for St. Joe's is who will play quarterback following the graduation of Player of the Year Chad Kelly, who is at Clemson University.

Senior Tyler Hill is the starter; he spent last season backing up Kelly and knows the system. 

Take a listen to third-year coach Dennis Gilbert discuss life after Chad, Day One, and this year's QB ... then its junior standout Rod Payne's turn:

There's more info about St. Joe's in my Day One story from Tuesday's paper, one that kicked off our #preptalkpreseason.

---Keith McShea

(@KeithMcSheaBN on Twitter)

First day of practice: St. Francis (with video interviews)

Back again to One News Plaza after another first-day-of-practice stop, and this one was with another defending champion. After visiting with defending Class AA state champion Orchard Park, it was time to head to Athol Springs to check in with defending Monsignor Martin Association champion St. Francis.

I got to spend a little more time at St. Francis, and it was worth it.

Check out what I heard while watching the end of some defensive-scheme drills at St. Francis' practice fields, which are beyond its football field on Route 75 (that's St. Francis Drive) in Athol Springs. At one point a train passed by in the background as three fields were being used for drills.

These are from coach Jerry Smith during the defensive drill which worked both sides of the line of scrimmage:

 "Any great player -- college or pro or whatever -- is thinking about what he is seeing when he goes down in a three-point stance. You should be thinking on EVERY PLAY about what you are seeing."

"If you are over here instead of over here [shifting his body around to an offensive lineman], then I'm going upfield, baybeeeeee."

"Monkeys might come out of your butt if you don't do what you're supposed to do."

He also had some rousing encouragement after drills that were well done: "There it is!" "Great job!"

Here's one I heard -- from a senior -- as a group of players got water during the final break of practice:

"Ten minutes left in our last first day of football."

A gem from the St. Francis trainer to the freshman team as players came over for water:

"If anyone is thinking of stealing a water bottle, don't. You'll be dead." 

I also followed up on perhaps the buzz-iest note of the #preptalkpreseason. St. Francis has two transfers from Canada, largely due to the success that current Penn State running back Akeel Lynch had in moving from his Toronto home to the Southtowns for his junior and senior years of high school.

Sophomore Jamal Johnson has arrived from the Toronto area.  

Devantie Campbell is a junior transfer from Canada as well -- but he's from ... Montreal (!).  

Yes, that Montreal, the one north of Plattsburgh, the one about eight hours or 400 miles (or 675 kilometers) away from Buffalo.

The success that Lynch had led to St. Francis coach Jerry Smith being invited to speak at a private Canadian company's combines for football players. One was in Toronto and one was in Montreal. Campbell -- who played defensive end in Canada but will be a running back/defensive back for the Red Raiders -- was part of the Montreal combine. He was one of many players to follow up with St. Francis and he decided to make the move away from home. He is staying with a teammate's family -- just as Lynch did.

Also new for St. Francis is Jailyn Coleman, a junior transfer from Sweet Home who is the younger brother of former Panther standout Mikal Coleman.

I had a great talk with coach Smith after practice.

I've tried three times to upload a video, from the same exact phone, from the same exact computer, that worked when I uploaded the OP videos. It has failed over and over, leading me to verbally assault a computer for the first time in the 2012-13 school year. It's a good thing there aren't penalties for that, or else I'd be ineligible for all three seasons. I'll try again later. My apologies.

* * * 

Here we go, better late than never.

Coach Smith along with standout junior Alex Misterman and senior Alex Dolegala:

---Keith McShea

(@KeithMcSheaBN on Twitter)

First day of practice: Sweet Home

Mike Torrillo’s size 12 spikes have some pretty big shoes to fill.

The lanky Sweet Home senior is the heir apparent to quarterback Jordan Johnson, who put up tremendous numbers while leading the Panthers to their fifth consecutive Section VI Class A title. Johnson rushed for 1,365 yards, passed for an additional 830 and was named All-WNY. Johnson makes his home now at UB, where he was signed to a scholarship.

Last season Torrillo played some QB out of the double-wing formation. He also lined up at wide receiver for the last five games and punted and kicked.

This season the Sweet Home QB position, and the off-the-chart expectations that go with it, are his.

“It’s going to be tough. Jordan was around for the last three years on varsity,” Torrillo said before the start of Monday’s practice. “I feel I’m ready. I’ve watched him. I’m not quite the same athlete he is. I’ll try to make up for it through my arm. We’ll see how it goes. I’m excited.”

Torrillo worked this offseason with the school’s fitness instructor Joel Patrick. He attended some local camps and has been throwing twice a week with his receivers.

He will run mostly out of the spread looking for wideouts Mike McCoy, Carter Mann, Anthony Martin, Brad Zaffram and Ethan Reger.

* * *

Coaching football never get old, even if you’re one of the longest tenured coaches in Section VI.

John Faller, who has 179 wins and two state titles in his 26 seasons at Sweet Home, welcomed the new season on Monday.

“I don’t think the excitement ever ends because I’ve got a new bunch of kids. They’ve kind of caught onto the program as the years have gone by, but now it’s their turn on the varsity,” Faller said while his team was stretching.

“It’s a new group of seniors. This is their year to find out what their legacy is going to be. They’re carrying a bull's-eye for the last five years, we’ll see if these juniors and seniors can do it.”

---Mary Jo Monnin

First day of practice: Williamsville South (with video interview)


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Following a 9-1 season that ended at the Ralph with a tough loss to Sweet Home, Williamsville South is back in business today on the first day of preseason work. The Billies are thankful that while they lost a big chunk of last year’s roster, senior quarterback Trent Ferguson is back for another season in the horned helmet.

After transferring from Sweet Home High School, Ferguson – whose frame and skill conjure comparisons to Cam Newton – led Williamsville South in 2011 with his arm and legs. The Sweet Home athletes, his former classmates, constantly remind him of their 28-14 victory.

“I hang out with those guys every weekend and all they do is talk about it,” Ferguson said. “That's definitely motivation.”

It was the Panthers’ fifth straight Section VI Class A championship and second straight win in the championship game over Williamsville South.

The 6-foot-3, 195-pound quarterback is aiming to stop the streak at five. While Sweet Home lost its standout quarterback (Jordan Johnson, who now plays for the University at Buffalo), Ferguson knows his team lost a ton of talent, too (among the list of notable players are All-WNYer T.J. Scamurra and Cody Stumpf). Ferguson’s team faces a tall task in league play.

"We're definitely not in the best shape that we could be, but we're getting better,” he said. “We've got a lot of good athletes, got a lot of talent. We're young but I think we'll be able to get it done this year.

“We have players that, if they touch the ball, they can score from anywhere on the field. I think we'll be very explosive.”

South head coach Kraig Kurzanski has faith in his squad.

“We talk about winning our league, winning sectionals and winning the state championship,” Kurzanski said. “Those are our goals at all times.

“I think we have some good football players. They're unknown commodities, but I think our guys can really play.”

The Billies acquired a huge talent this offseason: wide receiver Shaquille Nettles, who transferred from South Park. Nettles gives Ferguson a major weapon.

“He's a fantastic athlete,” Ferguson said. “You throw the ball anywhere in his range and he's going to come down with it.”

It’s possible that Nettles could get Ferguson even better stats this year, which is hard to comprehend because the QB would routinely put up four touchdowns in a game.

“Trent I believe is a Division I quarterback,” said Kurzanski, who saw Will South’s previous quarterback (the state record holder for most touchdown passes, Joe Licata) go on to play at UB (where the redshirt freshman is in a two-man quarterback battle). “I wish people would get here. He's a great leader, great character kid. Does great in school and people like to follow him.”

Will South will get back on the gridiron at home for its first game Aug. 31 against Bishop Timon St. Jude before going on the road for three weeks.

--- Aaron Mansfield

Twitter: @aaroncmansfield

First day of practice: Riverside

There’s no good way to put a positive spin on an 0-9 season, but with the track record Riverside football owns, the Frontiersmen are hoping to look past a down year after a Class AA North title and several Harvard Cups.

A new coach has improved the morale of the team, and the opening game of the year – in Syracuse University’s Carrier Dome Sept. 2 vs. Auburn – has the players thinking big things for the 2012 season.

“We’re starting at the dome, and I want to end at the dome,” said senior quarterback Justice Feggans, referencing the New York State title game played at the same location. 

Feggans, also Fourth Team All-WNY in basketball, was dismissed from the football team by the former coach earlier in his career, but, urged on by his family, he wants to give football another go in his last high school season.

“I had to play football,” he said. “It’s my first love.”

With a new coaching staff in place, led by head coach Jose Rodriguez, Riverside is putting away its double-wing, option offense – which fell out of favor with the players as it struggled to score points – in favor of a spread attack.

“What the double-wing did was use deception and speed, where now we’re just going to be using our speed,” Rodriguez said. “We’re going to get to the outside because we already got our receivers out there.”

From the spread attack, which utilizes multiple-receiver sets, opposing defenses will be forced to cover all the receivers out wide. From there, the middle of the field will be open for Rodriguez’s rushing attack to pick up yards in chunks.

Rodriguez was Riverside’s offensive- and defensive-line coach for seven years before taking last season off. The players know him from working at the school and are taking a liking to his style.

“He’s a cool dude,” Feggans said. “He’ll crack jokes and keep you laughing, but he’s serious about football too. And when he’s serious, he’s serious." 

And with this new mentality around the program, Feggans, a Riverside native, plans to help restore the team and the community to its winning status.

“[Everyone] is pumped. This school is based on the football team,” he said. “That’s what people talk about: Riverside, they got them boys over there that really know how to play football. I think this year, Coach Rodriguez is going to put us out there and showcase us to the world.”

--- Nick Veronica

Twitter: @NickVeronica

First day of practice: Orchard Park (with video interviews)

Just back to One News Plaza from a stop out at Orchard Park, home of one of Section VI's most dominating programs and the defending Class AA state champion.

I stopped by for the end of OP's three sessions, which focused on offense and special teams. I talked with head coach Gene Tundo and senior quarterback Ben Holmes, who played wide receiver last year.

Here are video interviews from my talks with both:

OP certainly has some top players back from last year's team. While Holmes moves from receiver to quarterback, he has a top threat in fellow senior Austin Goltz, who was a playmaker at WR along with Holmes last season.

Senior Michael Senn is back to anchor the line. Other returning seniors include multi-tasker Chris Sanfillipo, who saw time at H-back and tight end as well as defensive tackle; Ralph Pagliei at receiver and Mitch Wilson at running back. Adam Belica returns to the line after starting as a sophomore.

OP also had several transfers come in from out of state, said Tundo. Among the key contributors are expected to be two junior lineman, Dawson Hillis and Kyle Brewer. Hillis is "as big as Senn," Holmes said, referring to the 6-3, 270-pound Senn.   

Eric Jantzi, the former outstanding North Tonawanda coach, ran several drills at the end of practice. Jantzi moved from OP's JV to varsity late last season and he's a varsity assistant this year, along with Buffalo State Hall of Famer Craig Dana (a Kenmore West grad), longtime OP coach Chuck Senn and 2002 OP grad Todd Ellman.

"I think we have one of the best coaching staffs we've ever had. I'm excited about this group," said Tundo. "Eric is an outstanding coach, one of the best coaches in Western New York. He's a genius at the option. He knows every aspect of the game, and I'm lucky to have him." 

---Keith McShea

(@KeithMcSheaBN on Twitter)

First day of practice: North Tonawanda

New North Tonawanda football coach Tony Truilizio knows he’s inheriting a program rich with tradition. While every coach brings his own style to the locker room, Truilizio wants to give the players a mix of what’s made the Lumberjacks successful in past with an added dose of what he brings to the team. 

From an on-field standpoint for the players, that’s meant they haven’t had to encounter too drastic of a change from the systems they were used to running.

Truilizio says much of the option offense and defensive packages at North Tonawanda are similar to what he ran while coaching at Riverside.

“We’re bringing a different variation to it is the best way to put it,” Truilizio said. “We’re going to expand on what they’ve done. In simplest terms, [NT] had a better option program than we did, we had a better defensive program.”

The Jacks’ quarterback this year will be Chris Woodard, a 6-foot-4 sophomore. He’s a returner to the varsity program who admits “it’s a little nerve-wracking” to be a varsity starter, but it's something the NT native has been preparing for his whole life.

“I remember going to games as a little kid and thinking, ‘Someday I’ll be out there.’ And I finally am,” Woodard said. “I was at the state championship game (in 2009, which NT won) and it was a really good experience and you want to repeat that and keep up the tradition.”

Woodard made special mention of senior middle linebacker Tyler Durham, who’s been in his face during voluntary workouts all spring.

“He’s been up there, he’s been getting interceptions, he’s been all over the field,” Woodard said.

North Tonawanda opens the season at home on Aug. 31 against Sweet Home.

---Nick Veronica

Twitter: @NickVeronica

First day of practice: Starpoint

What kind of an offseason would it have been at Starpoint without a little "Insanity?"

The players revealed at Monday's first day of practice they have been working out as a team at school using the seen-on-TV "Insanity" program as part of their conditioning.

"Insanity" is a total body workout on DVD that tests an athlete’s limits using plyometric drills on top of nonstop interval training.

“Insanity is a balance of strength and you can get speed and agility from it,” said Evan Majewski, a returning 1,000-yard rusher. “It’s in between just running and lifting. It’s pretty much right in the middle. It does a little bit of both.”

Trying not to sound like the late-night infomercial, sophomore running back/safety Austin Bratek said he likes the workout because it works out your entire body compared to just doing one thing in the weight room. Cornerback/wide receiver Michael Chase said he expects his team will have plenty left endurance-wise in the fourth quarter -- thanks to a little "Insanity."

* * * 

Starpoint’s coaches and players spent part of Monday’s practice talking about last year’s 5-4 record and what might have been.

The Spartans lost games by a mere eight, six, four and four points.

“Today, and what we’re stressing the whole camp, is 'it’s the little things.' When you’re losing by less than a touchdown, it’s not big things,” said coach Al Cavagnaro. “It’s just people doing what they’re supposed to do, stepping the right way, carrying out your fakes. We’re going to practice things ad nauseam. Nobody is blowing us out.

“We lost by eight points to Bennett. In the last two years, we’ve been ahead of Sweet Home going into the fourth quarter. We lost to [Class AA] Lockport by four. We’re there, we’re right there,” he said.

The Spartans are likely to be without standout linebacker R.J. Hernandez, who suffered a concussion this summer at a camp.

---Mary Jo Monnin

First day of practice: Alden

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Head coach Dick Diminuco and quarterback Brian Stoldt have been waiting for today, the day fall practice began, since the end of their last game in November. The past two years, their Bulldogs have fallen prey to a dominant Hornell team (the three-time consecutive New York State Class B state champion) at the Far West Regionals – both times in heartbreaking fashion.

So it makes sense, after a hard-fought 21-14 defeat in 2010 and a 20-14 overtime loss last year in a game Alden seemed to have in hand in the fourth quarter, that the coach/QB combo is as driven as ever.

Stoldt said he thinks about last year’s loss to Hornell in Rochester at least 20 times a day.

“We were so close to winning it,” said Stoldt, a junior who started last year as an underclassman. “We’re ready to go. We want to get back there and win it this time.

“It just feels great to get back out here.”

The Bulldogs, who finished 10-1, led Hornell 14-6 with less than two minutes to play. But the Red Raiders scored and converted a two-point conversion with 1:37 remaining, then scored again in overtime.

Alden hit the field today at 9:15 a.m. Diminuco woke up at 4:30 because he was so excited. He said he’s been preparing all week.

“I’m an old guy and I’ve been coaching a long time, and I still remember [last year’s loss to Hornell],” said Diminuco, who has coached for 38 years. “I hope it serves as a focus for the kids. I hope it gives us a bit of incentive.”

Diminuco said he feels solid about his team’s core, but the squad isn’t as deep as it has been the past two years. Nevertheless, the team has a budding superstar in Stoldt.

“If something should ever happen to Brian, knock on wood, we’d have a difficult time,” Diminuco said.

Alden lost star players at wide receiver, offensive line and linebacker. Stoldt said he thinks the team’s defensive front seven, though it’s composed of mostly inexperienced players, will surprise a lot of people.

One thing is for certain: every player who is back from last year hasn’t forgotten about that loss.

“It’s very motivating,” Stoldt said. “We were so close to a state title. This year in the offseason we’ve worked very hard to get back. Our main goal this year is to win the state title. Section VI, it’s going to be a tough league and we’ve got to take it one game at a time.”

Stoldt has joined his teammates in weightlifting this summer, and since the season ended the team’s captains have participated in “captain’s workouts” three to four days a week.

Stoldt and his comrades will officially be back in action Aug. 31 at home against Roy-Hart.

--- Aaron Mansfield

Twitter: @aaroncmansfield

High school football practice kicks off

The 2012 fall season has begun.

Today marks the first day of practice for many fall sports, including football, in New York State.

The first day for scrimmages is the traditional Scrimmage Saturday on Aug. 25 while the season kicks off on Friday, Aug. 31 (that's the start of Labor Day weekend and before school has started).

The 2012 campaign has a lot to live up to after a 2011 that saw Orchard Park win a state championship and which featured two major college players (Chad Kelly of St. Joe's and Akeel Lynch of St. Francis) leading their teams to memorable Monsignor Martin Association seasons.

We will have reports throughout the day from various sites. I'll be heading to some afternoon practices while we will have reporters and photographers making their own visits.

---Keith McShea

(@KeithMcSheaBN on Twitter)

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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 |