By Aaron Mansfield
After a season in which Alden won the Section VI championship and made the state final four for the first time in school history, you might expect the Bulldogs to have a bit of self-assured swagger heading into the 2013 season. You might expect to sense an arrogance in their demeanor that says, ‘We’re good and we know it.’
But the Bulldogs are embracing a much different outlook – an underdog mentality. They’re hungrier than ever; they’re hungry to prove they can dominate without legendary coach Dick Diminuco, who left the team after last season to become the quarterbacks coach at SUNY Brockport.
Though Diminuco is gone, the team’s on-the-field leader from last year, senior quarterback Brian Stoldt, is back. Stoldt has been one of the primary attractions in Western New York high school football since he became the starting signal-caller as a sophomore.
He attended the prestigious Manning Passing Academy this summer, where he trained with athletes like AJ McCarron, Johnny Manziel and the Manning brothers. He has received the personal accolades and attention. Now he wants a state title.
“I don’t know if the motivation could get any higher, honestly,” Stoldt said after day one of practice Monday. “We’ve been so close and we’re just really ready to knock that door down and make it happen, and we’ve been really close, and we’ve just got to keep working hard.
“As bad as we want to focus on that and getting to the Dome, right now, we’ve just got to focus on week one and that’s Dunkirk coming to our place. So we’ve just got to keep getting better and we’ve got to be ready to go.”
The Bulldogs finished 11-1 last year and lost to Section IV Maine-Endwell, 49-14, in the state semifinals.
Rob Currin is the new head coach at Alden, and he knows he has received a weighty inheritance with Stoldt as his man under center.
“I don’t know how to pinpoint what it is about him,” Currin said. “I guess the best way to describe it is, his personality is a bit magnetic. I’ve watched kids follow him, varsity kids follow him, since he was a 10th grader.
“When I was on staff here my first year, he was in 5th or 6th grade, and you couldn’t get him off of this football field.”
Currin played offensive tackle at Buffalo State from 2000-03, and he joined the Alden coaching staff in 2007. He has been the offensive line and defensive line coach the last four years. An upcoming Buffalo News story will feature his succession of Diminuco and the transition happening within the entire Bulldogs program. Diminuco, a 2013 Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame inductee, was, and continues to be, a mentor to Currin.
“It’s been very upbeat,” Currin said of the team’s attitude. “It’s been very positive. The feel, the tone, the overall tone of our time together thus far – we had a mini-camp last week, we were together at our annual mini-camp for four days – and the overall tone has been very enthusiastic, very upbeat, very positive.
“So I like to credit that from our coaching staff. Our coaches are excited. Football is fun. We get to go out and play every day. It’s a game that really, while it asks boys to be men, it allows men to act like boys a little bit. It’s just been fun, really.”
Phil Zobrest is another of the stars on this year’s Alden squad. He plays tackle on offense as well as defensive end, and it’s his responsibility to replace all-state o-lineman Jason Bunk, who graduated, and help protect Stoldt, who made several college trips this summer and is mostly considering Division III schools right now.
“We’ve been hitting the weights pretty hard, and our quarterback, Brian Stoldt, has workouts every summer,” Zobrest said of the captains’ workouts Stoldt helps facilitate. “That helps a lot.”
Zobrest has also received attention from colleges and is considering Holy Cross, UB and SUNY Albany. He plans to make the move to tight end in college.
“We’ve been knocking on the door every year, and it’s not going to be different this year,” Zobrest said of pursuing a state championship.
Another big change in the program has been the combination of JV and varsity practices. One of the major proponents of the switch was new Alden quarterbacks coach Sean Bruso, who assisted at North Tonawanda and Orchard Park before Currin offered him a job.
“It’s great because now you can maximize your resources, so instead of having three varsity coaches working on both sides, now you have six,” Bruso said.
Stoldt was quick to credit Bruso with his progression this summer, in addition to the Tuesday-night work he has done with former NFL quarterback Jim Kubiak at the Western New York Quarterback Academy.
“I’m very comfortable working with quarterbacks,” Bruso said. “I have in the past, and it’s just a comfort spot for me. Having the ability to work with Brian Stoldt on a daily basis, it’s been awesome this summer. It really has.”
Alden lost powerful tailback Corey Barczykowski, the No. 4 all-time rusher in terms of yardage in Western New York history, but has several new young prospects who have shown flashes of immense potential. Among those prospects are three sophomores: safety/running back Lyle Grant, fullback/linebacker AJ Patterson and tight end/defensive lineman Dylan Riddoch.
Erik Feitshans, a 6-foot-5, 250-pound senior, is another of the leaders on this year’s squad, as are running back Ryan Richards and 6-foot-4 wide outs Dylan Dussault and Austin Hopcia.
The Bulldogs will open their season at home against Dunkirk Sept. 6 at 7 p.m.
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Follow reporter Aaron Mansfield on Twitter @aaroncmansfield.