Long a staple of the Genesee Region league, Elba and Byron-Bergen have parted ways, creating an opportunity for Elba and Oakfield-Alabama to create a new alliance.
It makes sense. The two communities share a youth football program, so the players grow up together and now they can continue that learning process together through the games that really count in high school.
Now comes the hard part of bringing two programs together on short notice. Elba's Head Coach Mike Cintorino and O-A Head Coach Brian Palone will share that role this year in the combined program. Home games will be split between the two schools and the team will wear the home uniform of whichever school is hosting that home game. On the road, they'll switch up the uniforms.
Next year, Cintorino said, no pun intended, the uniforms will become more uniform. There will be new colors and a new mascot.
This year, everybody's just got to get through the transition.
And the players are getting through it just fine, both coaches said. They're coming together, working hard and learning, even though it's a young team with lots of decisions to be made about who to play where.
One key decision is already made. Strong-armed freshman Colton Dylan will be behind center, taking snaps and running the offense.
"If we didn’t have the confidence in him we would probably find somebody else," Cintorino said. "He came out this summer and showed us right away — there were a few kids we were thinking about at the quarterback position, but the first time we came out for 7-on-7s and we watched him throw and watched him do what he can do, we just kind of looked at each other and said, ‘yup, that’s our guy.’ "
He's a freshman. He's got a lot to learn. He'll make mistakes and have his ups and downs, but Palone said he's shown he has the maturity to handle the process.
"He has a good cast around him, in coaches and players, to support him and help him become a better player," Palone said.
The offensive line is made up mostly of O-A players returning from last year and the receiving corps is anchored by experienced players from Elba, which will help put a good offense around Dylan, Palone said.
"Being a ninth-grader and being a leader to seniors is not an easy task," Cintorino said. "It’s not an easy task for an 11th-grader, so he’ll have to grow into that, but physically, he can do everything that we ask of him."
Palone and Cintorino are also growing into working with each other, they said. They both came into the GR the same year, so they know each other well, but they are molding together different styles and different strategies, but so far it's working well, they said.
"We're able to work together and help each other out," Palone said. "It's only going to make us better coaches, learning from each other and what we do. We’re both excited and looking forward to the challenge of working with each other and helping the kids out and becoming one program."