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August 27, 2015 - 11:49am
posted by Howard B. Owens in football, sports, batavia, Bulldawgs, Batavia HS.

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The Batavia Blue Devils varsity football team hosted the Batavia Bulldawgs youth football program at Van Detta Stadium on Wednesday night.

(Photos submitted by John Reigle.)

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August 26, 2015 - 5:49pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in football, sports, alexander.

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It's easy to be optimistic in the preseason, Alexander's Head Coach Tim Sawyer notes during a recent practice at The Field of Dreams while the Trojans sprint and leap and twist and turn and bang into each other during a series of warm-up drills.

Sawyer likes what he sees of his squad, which is inheriting back-to-back successful seasons that gave Alexander shots at sectional titles.

His boys are tough, working hard, have some talent and, most importantly, coalescing as a team.

"We had a tremendous summer," Sawyer said. "We have a really tight team. They like football. They like each other. They care about each other and they want to be the best they can be, so it's exciting."

The squad of 27 includes 11 seniors and 15 juniors. Jared Browne returns as the starting QB, Derrick Busch is at tight end, Connor Roberts at wide receiver, Zach Jasen at fullback and Jake Wozniak at halfback. Sawyer also can stack his lines with Josh Hylkema, Riley Kusmierski, Rick Amico, Sean Bennett, Matt Grover and Brett Nichols, none of whom start the season under 190 pounds.

Hylkema, a junior at 235 pounds, is an interesting case. He only started playing football last season, and has, Sawyer said, fallen in love with the game. 

"He's really changed," Sawyer said. "He's gotten bigger. He understands the game better."

But as Sawyer surveys the Genesee Region, he sees potential trouble every week. It will be a tough season.

  • Notre Dame: "They were very young last year and they got a ton of players back. They're going to be really tough."
  • Attica: "Always tough. Marchetti (Damian) will be his third year starting at quarterback for them. McCulloch (Hunter) is coming back to the running back spot for them. So Attica is going to be really good."
  • Elba: "Always challenges everybody. They play tough defense."
  • Holley: "Holley is much improved. I know they are. We were in the combine in March and Holley had 13 players there. Nobody better take Holley for granted."
  • Pembroke: "Coach Diminuco (in his second year), the longer you're there and have more continuity, the expectations become more clear. I think Pembroke is going to have a really good line. They were very young last year, but they've got boys who can play."

"That's the neat thing," Sawyer said. "I think overall, the strength of the league this year means on any given week, you're going to get a challenge."

That said, Sawyer added, "We've got high expectations."

"We were in sectional finals two years ago and semi-finals last year and we want to get back and win a sectional title," Sawyer said. "You can do that without winning the GR, but we'd like to do both. That's our ultimate goal, be GR champs again and win a sectional title.

"The kids have been working hard for it," Sawyer added. "It's in our sights. I've had groups in the past that will, you know, that will rattle off these goals, but they haven't acted up to it by their work ethic, but this group has been working hard. If that's what they want to do, I think we've got a shot at it, but you better be prepared to play every week in the GR."

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August 21, 2015 - 4:54pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Notre Dame, football, sports.

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Any season that Notre Dame doesn't make sectionals might seem like a disappointing year, but Head Coach Rick Mancuso doesn't look on 2014 that way at all for his squad.

"Disappointing? No. We were building all they way through the season and I thought we got better every week," Mancuso said. "I think we're just going to take from last year, where we built to, and keep building going forward here."

All but two of last year's starters are returning this year, and from the looks of things the 2015 team is bigger and stronger.

"We have lot more experience," Mancuso said. "It makes it a lot easier, what we're trying to go through, what we're trying to teach them and we don't have to go over a lot of things. We're a lot sharper. We're fine-tuning more than coaching from the base up."

Key returners include CJ Suozzi at tight end, Ethan Osborne at full back, and half-back duties will be split between Peter Daversa and Jack Sutherland. Mancuso has yet to name his starting QB.

"We have a great group of kids," Mancuso said. "Our linemen look great. They've spent a lot of time in weight room since November and starting to show. I
really think our conditioning is probably the best we've seen in the long time."

It will take a record of 5-2, maybe even 6-1 for a spot in the post-season. It will be a week-by-week, game-by-game effort to get there, Mancuso said, but he seems to like his team's chances.

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August 19, 2015 - 9:43am
posted by Howard B. Owens in Le Roy, football, le roy hs, sports.

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This truism is too apropos not to use: There are changes afoot in Le Roy.

The departure of legendary Head Coach Brian Moran after 26 years at the helm is well documented. This year, longtime assistant Brian Herdlein takes over the program. Gone also is Anthony Paladino, after 30 years. The new defensive coordinator is Peter Greene, who served for eight years as an assistant with the JV squad. And despite 16 returning seniors, Le Roy is turning to new talent at skilled positions, including QB, where junior Josh Laurie takes over for Mike McMullen.

The big surprise, though, comes with blue fingernail polish and a ponytail. Mary Purdy will become the school's first girl to play varsity football.

Purdy decided to forego soccer this year and so she was encouraged by football staff and players to try out for kicker.

"We're not trying ot make history," Herdlein said. "It was a situation where she was playing a different sport before. She didn't want to do that this year and she approached us about playing football and kicking for us. We had her come out. We had her kicking some footballs. The first day I show up, I see her kicking 35-yard field goals no problem. So of course, for me, I think that's a weapon, so to me I don't look at her differently than anything. She comes out, she does everything everyone one else is doing on the field. She'll go through the drills with us and then she'll do her kicking."

Purdy would also like to downplay any talk of her blazing a new trail. She's more focused on helping her team win and having fun playing football.

"I was hoping no one would draw so much attention to it," Purdy said. "I'm just happy to present my skill set wherever it's needed, but I guess it's kind of cool to be the first female to come through the area and play football."

Mostly, Herdlein is preaching continuity. He's not concentrating on the changes, just on the same values that has made Oatkan Knight football successful for decades: hard work, discipline and preparation.

"For me, it's just a title change," Herdlein said. "The rest of the staff has been here a long time. They know what they're doing. The kids know all of us. It's not that big of a change."

Herdlein will continue as offensive coordinator, a role he held in recent years under Moran, so the schemes won't change much.

"I'm not reinventing the wheel," Herdlein said. "They've been very successful here, so it's not like I'm the person who is going to come in and say, 'you haven't done it right before.' "

Laurie does bring a different skill set to the offense than McMullen. Herdlein described him as more mobile, so look for him to scramble more, run more.

"He's a kid who's very mature," Herdlein said. "He plays a lot of travel baseball on an elite team, so he's had that pressure situation before. He's ready to take the job."

Offensive linemen Ben Carmichael and Dave Englerth say they like what they see so far out of their new coach and their teammates.

"I'm very excited," Carmichael said. "I think we have a good team. I think we have a lot of new guys coming up who have a lot of talent. Our line especially is stacked and I think we're going to do very well this year."

Herdlein has put an additional emphasis on conditioning, which Englerth said will payoff for the team.

"I think we can make it to sectionals," Englerth said. "I think we have the ability."

With only 29 players, Herdlein said conditioning is critical for his team.

"We need to make sure the guys we have can last for four quarters of a football game," Herdlein said.

Among the players he looking to provide leadership are Nick Egling and Ryan Boyce.

Egling moves into the fullback position and Boyce, the son of a former Knight's QB, David Boyce, will be a receiver, free safety and long snapper.

"Nick will definitely be a force for us this year," Herdlein said. "We're going to be giving him the ball a lot. And Ryan has been around since he was a small boy. He knows the program. He is definitely going to step into a leadership role."

A year of changes, yes, but the expectations remain the same: Work hard, be tough, play to win.

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August 18, 2015 - 1:34pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Batavia HS, sports, football.

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There's a fine line between arrogance and cockiness. Confidence can breed complacency. Desire can succumb to expectations that lead to a catacomb of missed opportunities. A season can unravel in the difference between resolve, determination and grit versus just showing up and settling for an "I tried" shrug and a "pass the Gatorade." 

It's that difference Batavia Blue Devils Head Coach Brennan Briggs must negotiate as he heads into the 2015 season leading a team that a year ago, by all accounts, shouldn't have won a sectional title but did, and now is stocked with talented, seasoned seniors who are talking about a repeat on the first day of practice.

"That's going to be biggest battle I'm going to be fighting this season is telling these guys the 2015 football team hasn't won a single game yet together," Briggs said. "Last year, yes, we won a championship, but we were fortunate. We had 24 kids. We stayed healthy. We had zero injuries. We caught quite a few breaks and we made some big plays when we needed to. Nothing is guaranteed. It's very, very difficult to win a back-to-back championship, so honestly I don't like that they're talking about championships or anything like that."

The Blue Devils start pre-season camp with 31 players, and 18 of them are seniors. Some of them are stars if not solid contributors. Greg Mruczek is back at QB. He'll be joined offensively by Trevor Sherwood, Malachi Chenault, Adonis Davis, Anthony Gallo, Dominick Mogavero and Noah Dobbertin.

The depth and versatility is noticeable to the players and they can't help but talk of a repeat.

"We're ready to step back up," Mogavero said. "I feel like the whole team is ready to step up its game."

Gallo agrees.

"We're definitely after another championship," Gallo said. "I feel like we're all ready for it. I feel like that's everybody's goal. We want to win and we just want to get back where we were last year."

Briggs wants to see his players focus on getting better every day. Every day, they play against a faceless opponent on their own internal clock and only they know the score, but the outcome of those matches will determine what happens on Friday nights.

While Briggs wants to tap down the championship talk, he also gets that he's dealing with a group of confident kids, and it was confidence that carried this team from a tough opening loss in 2014 against Livonia through big wins to close out the season and bring Batavia its first sectional title in football since 1991.

Briggs calls it "swag," a characteristic the coach talked about as the wins began to pile up last season.

"I do appreciate that they do have a little bit of swag to them, I guess you could call it that, and it is good, because as we found out last year, we were in some tight games toward the end and that kind of pushed us though," Briggs said. "They had confidence that they could get the job done. I think with all of their off-season work and the commitment they've put into the program, and the buy-in, that does help with every single game, day-in-and-day-out, to know that we have what it takes to win a championship, but saying it and feeling it is a little bit different than going out and doing it."

At the end of Monday's workout, Briggs had a straightforward message for his team: "You have a target on your backs."

If the 2014 team was one that came into the season just hunting for a few extra wins, it's now the team to beat for every local gridiron warrior in helmets and pads.

"Nobody is going to give you anything - nobody," Briggs said. "Nobody is going to say, 'Ah, we're playing Batavia, we're going to back down.' Everybody who plays us is going to want to beat us because it might make their season. That might be it. On their calendars, there might be a star, 'We've got a shot to prove something. We've got a shot to beat Batavia. They think they're on top right now. We're going to go out and show everybody else that we're better than them.' "

But the players do think they're better, maybe not yet better than University Prep, better than Wilson, better than Penn Yan and better than Geneva, but they believe they're better than last year, and that's the team that marched through that championship season with a lot of swag.

"Really, I expect to win another championship," Wilson said. 

His job, as he sees it, is to help keep his teammates focused on that goal and fired up for every minute of every practice, because that's what wins games.

"The seniors want to make it happen again, so there's a lot of pressure to do it again," Davis said.

There's peer pressure, then there are community expectations, something Mruczek acknowledges. 

"This community has a lot of expectations," Mruczek said. "With me being the senior quarter people think I need to step up as a leader and I've been trying to do that more; lead this team in the right direction to win another championship. My goal is to put in another solid season, do my 1/11th on the offensive side of the ball and lead this team to another championship."

Briggs thinks Mruczek is ready for the challenge. He isn't a player, the coach said, who worries about his own stats. He gets ready for each game, each play, and knows what his role his.

"He knows how to keep a level head on his shoulders," Briggs said. "I've never questioned his competitive edge or how hard he works, so I'm not too worried about anything like that. He knows what his job is -- go out there and manage the game and be a leader, and hopefully make some big plays when he needs to."

If all eyes are on him as the senior QB, Mruczek is fine with that role, he said.

"I like the pressure," Mruczek said. "I'm confident in this team. We've got a lot of guys with a lot of confidence. I don't really feel any pressure right now. I'm out here having fun my senior year."

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July 30, 2015 - 4:52pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Kibbe Park, batavia, batavia bulldawgs, sports, football.

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Officials with the Batavia Bulldawgs, a youth football program with about 150 participants, were surprised recently to learn from city officials that they wouldn't have full use of Kibbe Park for practices, said John Reigle, Bulldawgs president.

Reigle said the four age-bracketed teams need a lot of space and a lot of parking for parents and coaches on practice days and only Kibbe Park provides enough space.

A newly formed men's softball league reserved the ball field at Kibbe, creating a scheduling conflict between the two uses.

City Manager Jason Molino said the city has seen an increase in the number of organized groups looking to use city parks over the past couple of years and that means the city needs to find a way to juggle the interests of all those groups.

"It's a new issue," Molino said. "It's not a bad issue. It's a good issue. There are multiple different organizations wanting to use the parks. In the past, the parks were available on a first-come, first-served basis, but as we get different organizations, football, softball, tennis, it creates conflicts. We need to figure out a way to get with all parties and work out a schedule."

Reigle said the Bulldawgs were a little caught off-guard by change in park use. For several years, going back at least 10 years if you include Batavia Youth Football, local youth football programs have used Kibbe Park for practice without reservations. Reigle said he wishes city officials had informed the Bulldawgs it needed to reserve the space for the first time before giving the time and space to another group.

This season, the Bulldawgs will practice where they play, at Lion's Park.

That's not an ideal situation because of limited parking in the area.

Riegle fears the increase in traffic four days a week will have a negative impact on residents on Wallace Street.

"On Saturday game days, as a courtesy to the neighbors, we put out cones in front of their front yards and driveways so people won't park there," Riegle said. "It's a small street and traffic flow in and out of the park is difficult."

Molino offered the team a city-owned field on Cedar Street, in front of the County Highway Department, but that field hasn't been used in years. At one time, before Batavia Sports Park, it was used for youth soccer. It hasn't been maintained since and Riegle said the ground is too hard and rutted now to be used safely for practice.

Which brings up another issue Molino said the city is facing as recreational sports use of the parks increases -- field prep and maintenance.

The city doesn't have a recreation department and doesn't have the resources to perform the kind of prep work that might be common for recreational leagues in other cities.

"In a way, this comes up at a good time," Molino said. "Our strategic plan outlines the need to do a recreational needs assessment. That can be done through the comprehensive planning process. We can look at what the needs are and develop that into the comprehensive plan so we know what these services cost and what it will take to fund them. It's a good public process that will help us understand the needs and demands on our parks."

Molino said he realizes Reigle isn't 100-percent satisfied with the outcome of their discussions about the situation, but both men are open to exploring the use of the field on Cedar Street for next season.

"The Bulldawgs are committed to continue providing a great program for the kids," Reigle said. "We'll make do with what's best for the safety of the kids."

July 22, 2015 - 6:08am
posted by Billie Owens in GLOW Fighting Ducks, football, sports.

Press release:

The youth football team, the GLOW Fighting Ducks, are running a mini-camp, free to all current Ducks on today, and Thursday from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Notre Dame High School in Batavia.

On Thursday after the camp we are planning on showing a token of our appreciation to Notre Dame for allowing us to play on their field by donating brand new "Down Markers" to the football program.

President, Marc Lawrence
GLOW Fighting Ducks
PO Box 1549
Batavia NY 14021
[email protected]
www.glowfightingducks.com

June 1, 2015 - 12:52pm

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The annual Jim Kelly Celebrity Golf Classic is underway at Terry Hills today. The entire Buffalo Bills team attended the morning's events, which included for the players a long-drive contest and a football throwing contest.

Above, head coach Rex Ryan wallops one during the long-drive contest.

Jim Kelly on the anniversary of the Bills' Super Bowl run and the prospect for the Rex Ryan era.

Jim Kelly on Rex Ryan.

Jim Kelly on tournament fun.

Jim Kelly on continuing the tournament.

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Players react to a teammate's errant tee shot during the long-drive contest.

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A player reacts to his own errant tee shot.

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Players participate in the football throwing target contest.

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Actor Dennis Haskins (TV show "Saved by the Bell") with Kathy Leffel. Leffel lives on Clinton Street Road and has for years on tournament day invited her friends over and served brownies from under a tent in her back yard to any celebrity golfers who stopped by. Most years, all the big stars do, such as Dan Marino and Jim Kelly himself. Leffel has sold the condo and will be moving, so this is probably the last year of the brownie party.

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March 18, 2015 - 12:06pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, batavia bulldawgs, football, sports.

Press release:

The board of directors and coaching staff of the Batavia Bulldawgs Youth Football & Cheer program are excited to announce the open registration dates for their upcoming 5th season. We look forward to welcoming new and returning athletes to the Bulldawg family.

Registration will be held on Saturday, April 11, from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. at the Batavia City Centre (east entrance, near Sunny’s Restaurant). Boys and girls between the ages of 6 and 14, attending Batavia area schools (that are not affiliated with another NOFA team) are eligible to participate, with no weight restrictions. All athletes will be placed in developmentally age appropriate divisions based on the following league age rules:

Football divisions (NO WEIGHT REQUIREMENTS):
Beginner (ages 6-7; must be 6 by 12/1, can’t turn 8 prior to 12/1)
Mini (ages 8-9; must be 8 by 12/1, can’t turn 10 prior to 12/1)
JV (ages 10-11; must be 10 by 12/1, can’t turn 12 prior to 12/1)
Varsity (ages 12-13; must be 12 by 12/1, can’t turn 14 prior to 12/1)

Cheer divisions:
Beginner (ages 6-7; must be 6 by 12/1)
Mini (ages 8-9; must be 8 by 12/1)
JV (ages 10-11; must be 10 by 12/1)
Varsity (ages 12-14; must be 12 by 12/1, can’t turn 15 prior to 12/1)

Football and cheer registration fees can be accepted via credit/debit card, check or cash and includes:

- high-quality, annually certified safety equipment
- full game day uniforms
- practice uniforms
- dri-fit T-shirt
- accident & liability insurance
- Cheerzone competition
- end of season banquet
- participation trophy
- possible playoffs for mini squad thru varsity based on record of wins/losses

**A multi-athlete family discount is available as well as payment plan options. Scholarships are also available for those who apply based on eligibility. A minimum of $50 is required at time of registration.

The Bulldawgs eagerly anticipate the summertime announcement of our 2015 game schedule with locally affiliated NOFA teams in the surrounding areas of Attica, Alexander, Pembroke, Oakfield/Elba, Akron, Alden, Albion, Medina, Roy-Hart & Newfane.

All contests will take place on Saturdays from late August through October. Every player will get the opportunity to participate in every game, where we never keep track of individual player statistics, only player participation and team records. USA Football certified coaches, using the Heads-Up Football philosophy to reduce the risk of injury, will coach our athletes. In addition, certified coaches will help to train our current cheer squads toward continued great success in the 2015 Cheerzone competition.

About Batavia Bulldawgs

Batavia Bulldawgs Football and Cheer is a family-oriented volunteer, nonprofit organization affiliated with the Niagara Orleans Football Association, established in 1999. Since our inception in 2011, we have been committed to providing a high-quality youth football program where we are dedicated to the instruction of football, the philosophy of teamwork, the development of sportsmanship and competition in a safe and respectful environment, while promoting personal responsibility and offering participants an opportunity to enjoy all that is best about youth sports.

Contact

An informational meeting will be held this Wednesday March 25th at 6:30 p.m. in the Batavia Middle School auditorium. Board members and coaches will be available to answer any questions and discuss the upcoming season.

A small number of volunteer football and cheer coaching positions are currently available to interested adults. To learn more about this opportunity, or to answer and questions, please contact

Barry Warner, League Commissioner
585-217-1213
[email protected]

January 26, 2015 - 5:30pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in football, sports, high school sports, Le Roy.

Jim Bonacquisti roasted retiring Le Roy football coaches Andrew Paladino and Brian Moran at the team's annual post-season dinner Sunday at the Stafford Fire Hall.

Paladino spent 30 years as the Oatkan Knights' defensive coordinator. Moran was the head coach for 26 seasons and retired with 203 wins, a state championship and 14 sectional titles.

The other coaches presented Paladino and Moran with rocking chairs.

JV Assistant Coach Jeff Condidorio was presented with a signed football by Moran. Condidorio is retiring after nearly 40 years with the football program.

Moran called each player to the podium and spoke briefly about their season and their career with the team. The seniors each received a miniature, mounted football helmet with their numbers on it. Here he's with QB Mike McMullen.

A slide show of more pictures will be posted later.

January 9, 2015 - 7:16am
posted by Howard B. Owens in football, sports, high school sports.

The following players were honored for their 2014 season in the New York Sportswriters Association All-State awards.

  • Dom Mogavero, linebacker, Batavia, First Team, Class B
  • Tom Kelso, linebacker, LeRoy First Team Class C.
  • Greg Mruczek, quarterback, Batavia, Second Team, Class B
  • Mike McMullen, quarterback, Le Roy, Second Team, Class C
  • Steele Truax, linebacker, Elba/Byron-Bergen, Second Team, Class C
  • Honorable mentions in Class D: Josh Johnson, Notre Dame; Tyler Laird, Alexander; Zach Shivlock, Alexander; Allen Chatt, Oakfield-Alabama

UPDATED to include Tom Kelso. who was inadvertantly left out of the original post. Apologies to the Kelso family.

December 25, 2014 - 9:31pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, football, sports, high school sports, Le Roy.

Batavia's Dominick Mogavero and Le Roy's Mike McMullen have both been named to the All-Greater Rochester Football Team for 2014.

McMullen was listed on the team as a quarterback and utility player. Mogavero, who played running back and linebacker for the Blue Devils, was named as a linebacker.

Greg Mruczek and Anthony Gallo, from Batavia, were named to the second team.

Honorable mentions went to:

  • Ethan Henry (Le Roy)
  • Tom Kelso (Le Roy)
  • Kody Lamkin (Le Roy)
  • Ryan McQuillen (Le Roy)
  • Mike Shepard (Le Roy)
  • Jarrett Laskett (Batavia)
  • Casey Arnold (Oakfield-Alabama)
  • Samuel Browne (Alexander)
  • Allen Chatt (Oakfield-Alabama)
  • Ryan Emery (Oakfield-Alabama)
  • Andrew Gottler (Elba/Byron-Bergen)
  • Bryan Hallenbeck (Elba/Byron-Bergen)
  • John Hochmuth (Elba/Byron-Bergen)
  • Josh Hylkema (Alexander)
  • Josh Johnson (Batavia Notre Dame)
  • Tyler Laird (Alexander)
  • Ethan Osborne (Batavia Notre Dame)
  • Cal Neurohr (Pembroke)
  • Jacob Riggs (Alexander)
  • Devon Schroeder (Oakfield-Alabama)
  • Mike Shanley (Elba/Byron-Bergen)
  • Zach Shilvock (Alexander)
  • Dakota Swimline (Pembroke)
  • Jack Thomas (Pembroke)
  • Steele Truax (Elba/Byron-Bergen)
  • Reice Woodward (Oakfield-Alabama)
  • Joe Zickl (Batavia Notre Dame)
December 11, 2014 - 4:09pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, football, sports, high school sports, Batavia HS.

The Batavia Blue Devils Head Football Coach Brennan Briggs will be recognized on the field Sunday before the Buffalo Bills game against the Green Bay Packers as the Buffalo Bills/National Guard Coach of the Week for week 11.

The school will receive a $1,000 contribution to the football program as a result of the award.

During the game, Briggs will be seated inside the Red Zone section, complements of the Buffalo Bills.

File photo.

November 16, 2014 - 11:56am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, football, sports, high school sports, Batavia HS.

Six times during Saturday afternoon's regional championship match at Buffalo's All High Stadium the Blue Devils were on the brink of putting six on the scoreboard, and six times Batavia let the opportunity slip away.

The blown opportunities alone represent more points than Cheektowaga managed on their own in the Class B matchup.

"You can't win football games when you do that," Head Coach Brennan Briggs said after the 35-16 loss.

In five of the six times the Blue Devils reached the red zone but failed to score, Cheektowaga got the ball back on turnovers.

"It's disappointing turning the ball over so many times, but that's the game of football, Briggs said.

The other time Batavia came up short -- literally came up short -- was in the closing seconds of the half when Batavia had the ball inside the five with 1st and goal to go.

When fourth down rolled around and less than 10 seconds on the clock, the ball was two inches from the goal line. A Cheektowaga off sides put the ball on the one-inch line.

Batavia couldn't punch it in.

A score there would have made it 21-21 at the half.

Batavia's game plan called for the offensive to use the ground game, grind up precious minutes off the clock and keep Cheetowaga's quick-strike offense off the field as much as possible.

The fewer times the Warriors' Marshawn Gibson touches the ball, the better for any opponent.

Even though Gibson still carried the ball 12 times for 146 yards, plus an 81-yard reception, for four touchdowns, that part of the game plan worked.

On the first drive, Batavia learned that what film study revealed was true: Give the ball to Dominick Mogavero and let him chew up yards and the clock.

Time of possession tilted heavily in Batavia's favor, 33 minutes to 15 minutes, and Mogavero carried the ball 32 times for 160 yards.

"I feel a little bad for Anthony Gallo because he's such a good back, but our style of what we were doing, grinding it out, we saw how well that can work on that first drive, so we stuck with Dom because he's got a little bit more to him," Briggs said. "He just did a great job offensively and defensively."

Batavia made it look easy on the first drive of the game, scoring on a six-yard pass from Greg Mruczek to Gallo, but Cheektowaga struck quickly on its own first drive, as Gibson streaked 74 yards for a touchdown.

With the score 14-7, Briggs once again made a gutsy fourth-down play call. This time, a lateral to Trevor Sherwood who threw the ball cross field to a wide open Ryan Hogan for a 32-yard TD.

Then the wheels started to come off. A fumble, an interception, the failed goal line opportunity, and more fumbles and another interception in the second half just put Batavia in too deep of a hole.

Still, 2014 was an amazing season for the Batavia Devils, going 6-1 in the regular season and winning the program's first Section V title since 1991. The loss doesn't diminish a turnaround season.

"It still hasn't sunk in yet," Briggs said after the game. "We're very disappointed in the loss. We were hoping to keep moving on, but a Class B section V title is something for Batavia to be proud of and I think we can build off of this and do a lot of great things after this."

Mruczek, Gallo, Mogavero, along with Trevor Sherwood, Malachi Chenault, Noah Dobbertin and Danny Williams will all be back next year.

That's the core of any potential winning team right there, plus there are players in the pipeline, either from JV or varsity, ready to contribute.

"This (season) helped the underclassmen of Batavia football realize how important it is to be there in the off season," Briggs said. "Maybe we will get a little bit more commitment this off season from a kid who doesn't want to be there. We have a very good nucleus of kids coming back and I can't wait to get them going."

Top Photo: Gallo with the first score of the game.

Cheektowaga's Hakiem Black with a TD reception in the third quarter.

Dom Mogavero

Mruczek hands off to Mogavero.

Mogavero looks for a hole with Cheektowaga's Dylan Romanczak in pursuit.

Gunner Rapone wraps up Gibson in the backfield in the fourth quarter for one of the star back's rare loss of yardage runs.

Sherwood alone on the bench with his thoughts in the closing minute of Batavia's 35-16 loss to Cheektowaga.

November 16, 2014 - 10:01am
posted by Howard B. Owens in football, sports, high school sports, Le Roy.

It was one of those days for the Le Roy Oatkan Knights. One of those days when nothing goes right.

It didn't go right on the opening kick off, which Maple Grove/Chautauqua Lake's Mitch Padilla returned the ball some 80 yards to set up his team's first play from scrimmage on the Knight's two-yard line.

It didn't go right every time Le Roy had the ball. Not a single drive advanced further than the Dragons' 35 yard line.

For the first time all year, the Knights, who came into the game undefeated and the state's top ranked team in Class C, failed to score. 

As a coach said after the game, "we got beat by a better team. There's no shame in that."

Head Coach Brian Moran conceded his squad just couldn't match up against Maple Grove's speed.

The speed put defensive players in the Knights' backfield to stymie runs and pressure QB Mike McMullen. The speed opened holes for the fast and elusive Ryan Miller, who carried the ball 23 times for 208 yards and four touchdowns.

"That's one of the best Class C teams I've seen in 26 years," Moran said. "They deserve a lot of credit, their coaching staff and their kids, and I wish them all the best."

There was some hope that this talented Le Roy football team could have been the fourth team coached by Moran to reach the state finals, but it's never easy to win games in the post season. The level of competition gets better every week and you don't know how you match up until you play the games.

Moran finishes a 203-win career with a loss, but that isn't what was on his mind during the post game interview.

"I'll think what a pleasure it is to work with the kids," Moran said after being asked to reflect on his time as Le Roy's head coach. "We talk about it all the time, the wins and losses and the sectional titles, but the thing I'll miss the most is the kids."

There were clearly tears welling up behind Moran's Ray Ban sunglasses as he spoke.

Le Roy gained only 95 yards total offense, with 75 through the air as McMullen went 10-26 passing.

Most of McMullen's completions came on swing passes and short routes. The Dragons' defense simply gave him no time to get the ball down field accurately and speedy receiver Ryan McQuillen was double-teamed all afternoon.

"We knew coming in, watching the films, they were going to do that," Moran said.v"We tried to prepare for it, but to be honest with you, we couldn't match up in our preparation with the speed off the corners and their outside linebackers."

Le Roy was held to 20 yards on the ground, with Tom Kelso rushing for 19 on 10 carries.

Maple Grove's attack was entirely ground based. The Dragons' had 371 yards total offense. There wasn't a single yard of offense gained through the air.

The Dragons' advance to the state championship semi-finals with an 11-0 record.

"I'd be surprised to see anybody step up to the speed that they have in the rest of the state," Moran said.

Previously: For Brian Moran, the wins are nice, but boys becoming men is the bigger reward

Top Photo: A.J. Hulton hands off to Ryan Miller and Mitch Padilla runs along side to help disguise the direction of the run play.

Tom Kelso dragged down in the open field after a pass reception.

A Le Roy player with positive yardage late in the game. The ball was marked two yards behind where he's about to go out of bounds.

Mike McMullen pressured during a pass play.

November 15, 2014 - 5:58pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, football, sports, high school spprts.

Batavia fell to Cheektowaga in the Class B regional championship game at All High Stadium in Buffalo on Saturday 35-18.  

Five red zone turn overs and an inability to punch the ball in from less than a yard out in the closing seconds of the first half doomed the Blue Devils. 

more coverage later. 

November 14, 2014 - 3:34pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, football, sports, high school sports, Batavia HS.

Coaches preach it all the time: Do your 1/11th.

There are 11 men on the field and to execute any play correctly, each player must do his part -- plant his feet right, push in the right direction, make the right cut, run the right route, make the right read, find his man.

Winning football is a matter of dedication, detail and focus.

But on any team, there are guys who do a little more than their 1/11th. They are the captains.

"As a coach, you want to have people in the locker room whom you can use as other coaches," said Brennan Briggs, head coach of the Batavia Blue Devils. "They let you know what's going on. You want that kind of relationship. They need to be those guys who have a sense of leadership and want to make the team theirs so they can self regulate what's going on on the field, in the locker room and in practices to help keep guys on task."

For the Blue Devils, selecting captains is a multilevel process. Team members vote who among their peers should be captain. The assistant coaches give Briggs their input, and then the final decision rests with Briggs.

The captains for the Blue Devils this year  -- the three guys who helped lead Batavia to its first sectional title in 23 years and will suit up in those roles again tomorrow in a game to qualify for state playoff rounds -- are Gunner Rapone (lower left in the photo), James Cryer and Devon Koepp.

Gunner Rapone
Senior, Offensive and Defensive Line
6'4", 260 pounds

Rapone is a staple of the program, Briggs said. He's come up through the ranks and grown and matured as a player each step along the way. 

"He's passionate about the game of football and the kids like him," Briggs said. "He's done a good job of stepping up in the leadership role."

Rapone was born and raised in Batavia. He said his father got him started in youth football and was pretty persistent in seeing he stuck with it.

He's grown to love the game.

Leading this team (Cryer and Koepp said much the same thing) hasn't been difficult. Everybody gets along pretty well and there is a focus and confidence that hasn't existed before.

"There is a family mentality with all the guys," Rapone said. "In the past, we haven't really had a tight-knit group of guys to work with, developing as a team. This year, everyone hangs out with everyone and everyone knows each other. It's like a home away from home."

Rapone said he's enjoyed being a captain.

"I really like being one of those people that others can look up to and look to for guidance," Rapone said. "I like to help others. Being a captain is amazing. It's a fun experience. It's an interesting time."

As for his future, there are some decisions to make. He's interested in criminal justice and law and he's set his sights on the University at Buffalo. He would love to play for the Bulls, but realizes Division I football is a high level to reach. While he's looking at other schools, he said he's not daunted by the task of trying to make the team.

"I don't want my career playing this amazing game to end," Rapone said. "Regardless, I'm willing to put in the time and the effort in all the things I need to do to be able to play."

James Cryer
Senior, Wide Receiver, Defensive End
5' 11", 160 pounds

Cryer is not necessarily the most athletic player on the field, and among the captains, he's not even the most vocal, but what he is is invaluable to a winning team.

Cryer leads by example and contributes by coming up with the big players, whether it's the game-opening touchdown catch or the drive-stopping interception.

"James is very, very coachable," Briggs said. "He does an awesome job. He's not the most talented, but he makes up for that with hard work and a willingness to learn. He's generally on the field both offensively and defensively. He's that guy who kids look up to because he gets the job done."

For his part, Cryer said that, yes, he's not vocal. There are different kinds of leadership he said, and he realized early on that he was named a captain because he could lead by example.

"At first, I was surprised (to be named a captain)," Cryer said. "Then I realized, as I thought about it more, he saw that leadership potential in me and that came more into play when I was named captain."

He said he enjoys the role.

"It means a lot to me that the guys trust me," Cryer said.

Born in Buffalo, Cryer also leans toward UB. He's also looking at Alfred State. He wants to learn computer programming and Web development. He also wants to keep playing football and hockey.

Devon Koepp
Senior, Offensive and Defensive Line
6'3" 265 pounds.

Koepp makes no bones about it. He loves football because he loves being the big man on the gridiron.

"I like hitting," Koepp said. "I love it. I've always loved hitting kids. It's a great feeling when you lay somebody out."

Reading that in print might leave the impression that Koepp is a Dick Butkus in the making, but even as he says that it is a great feeling to "lay somebody out," his demeanor is that of a well-mannered teen. 

He'll knock you down, extend a hand and help you up, and on the next snap, lay you out again, just because that's what linemen do.

"He uses his size and strength to his advantage," Briggs said.

Koepp started playing football at a young age, but soon became too big to play in the youth programs. He had to wait until seventh grade to play modified football.

This is his fourth varsity season.

"He brings that experience," Briggs said. "He knows what it's like to be a varsity player. He's a big strong kid and he can be intimidating. We have our goofballs on the team and he knows how to get them quiet, and gets them focused."

As a four-year varsity player, being part of the Blue Devils team that brought home the first sectional title since 1991 is certainly something special, Koepp said.

"It feels amazing," Koepp said. "It really is awesome. All the work all season paid off. We finally showed something, Batavia, our hometown, we finally showed that we can play and win."

Koepp is drawing the interest of universities in the region for both football and track and field, including St. John Fisher, Hobart and Utica, among others.

"It's really awesome to see all that stuff coming in the mail," Koepp said. "It is a great experience. I'm not sure where I'll go yet, but I'll figure it out."

Batavia (9-1) takes on Cheektowaga (9-1) at 3 p.m., tomorrow, at All High Stadium in Buffalo.

Le Roy (10-0), now the #1 ranked Class C team in the state, takes on Maple Grove (10-0) at noon at the same location.

The winners of each game advance to the state semi-finals.

Both games can be heard on WBTA, on WBTAi.com and on WBTA's smartphone apps.

The Batavian will also cover both games.

November 12, 2014 - 5:00pm

Batavia City School District is in the running to win $1,000 because the varsity football team has been featured on Time Warner Cable Sports Channel's game of the week. All that is needed is your vote (and plenty of others before the deadline of this Friday, November 14, at 2:30 p.m., so feel free to pass this information on… quickly!)

 

It is so easy – not to mention fun to replay one of the amazing passes/catches of the season! Just click on this link to go directly to the voting (and replay) page:

http://www.twcsportschannel.com/ny/rochester/play-of-the-year.html

 

The Time Warner Cable SportsChannel Play of the Year contest recognizes the best plays from their coverage of high school football this fall. Each weekly winner has advanced to a final competition to crown a Play of the Year. Along with bragging rights, a $1,000 Grand Prize will be awarded to the school that executed the winning Play of the Year.

 

Now is the time for all Batavia City School District students, families, and friends to vote for Batavia’s play. Do it now, because, remember, voting ends this Friday at 2:30 pm.

November 7, 2014 - 9:11pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in football, sports, high school sports, Le Roy.

Le Roy beat Bath in a Class C Section V final this evening in Rochester, 34-24.

The Rams had the Oatkan Knights on the ropes by the close of the first quarter, securing a lead of 14-6.

A turnover deep in Bath territory proved effective in shifting the momentum and sent the Knights on a 28-0 run, with Bath managing the final touchdown of the game.

The win is the 15th Section V title, a new Section V record.

It's the 202 career win for Head Coach Brian Moran and his 14th Section V title.

Next step, a Far West Championship game next week.

Game stats: Mike McMullen was 13 for 28 for 250 yards and four TDs. Tom Kelso, 18 carries for 71 yards and a TD. Ryan McQuillen had two catches for 134 yards and two touchdowns. Jake Henry had four catches for 38 yards and two TDs. Kody Lampkin had eight tackles and a sack. Nick Egeling, eight tackles. Tyler Prinz, seven tackles. Tom Kelson, seven tackles.

Photos by David Boyce. For more pictures, click here.

November 7, 2014 - 8:00am
posted by Howard B. Owens in football, sports, high school sports, Le Roy.

Sports talk in Ron Rossi's barber shop flows as freely as hair tonic and Barbasol.

From the folding seats along the north wall, facing the green leather, chrome-trimmed chair that is nearly always occupied by a customer, you could probably sit all day if you liked talking sports.

Rossi bleeds pinstripes, and the Yankee logo with its red, white and blue top hat hoisted on a bomber’s bat adorns all three walls on a pennant, banner and poster, but the Yankees are not the only sports team dear to Rossi’s heart.

Once a Knight always a Knight, and Rossi is among that fraternity who have donned black and red. It may have been more than four decades ago, but Rossi follows his alma mater the way Sooners stick with Oklahoma and Tigers hold tight to Clemson.

So it’s no surprise that one afternoon years ago, with a few loyal Le Roy fans in the shop, the talk soon turned to the Oatkan Knights and their new rookie coach.

He came from Livonia. This was the kid’s first head coaching job. Could he handle it? What did he know about football? Could he motivate the kids? Was he tough enough? Would he deliver championships?

The way Jim Rudgers remembers it, he was sitting in that barber chair with this banter going about. He happened to know the new head coach, and as a former Knight and an up-and-coming coach himself, he thought maybe the new guy was getting a bum rap.

“They were complaining about this new, young football coach,” Rudgers recalled. “Some of them said he didn’t know what he was doing. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Brian Moran walking down Mill Street. Now, I still have a towel wrapped around my neck, but I get out of the seat and go out and grab him. I knew Brian because his dad used to sell sporting equipment. I say, ‘Brian, come on in here, these guys don’t think you know what you’re doing.’ ”

Moran, tall, sandy-haired and built like a defensive end, entered the shop and Rudgers said, “Come on guys, here he is. Tell him he’s an idiot and that he doesn’t know what he’s doing. They were like, ‘uh, uh, uh.’ ”

Rudgers thinks that 26 years later, after more than 200 wins, 13 Section V titles and a state championship, the record has been set straight.

Brian Moran knows what he’s doing.

Development of a coach
There wasn’t a time in Brian Moran’s life that he wasn’t passionate about sports. With two older brothers, he had plenty of opportunity to play, compete and try to keep up. Football, basketball, baseball were all staples of young Brian’s life.

After high school, Moran attended Bridgton Academy in Maine, with its motto, “The Year that Makes a Difference.” It was a chance to continue his athletic pursuits in football and baseball as well as prepare for the rigors of college.

Though a prep academy, the football program exposed Brian to some top-notch competition. In an eight-game schedule, Bridgton played the freshman teams from the University of Boston, Umass and Norwich.

In 1983, he entered the University at Cortland as a physical education major. He also earned his teaching degree.

He played football all four years at Cortland, knowing that when his collegiate career was over, he wanted to coach high school kids.

“I really enjoyed being around athletics,” Moran said. “I really did. My career goal was to be a coach and in education just because I enjoyed being around that atmosphere so much.”

His first job out of college was teaching at St. Joe’s in Penfield, then he got a call from the University of Rochester to be an assistant under U of R’s legendary Pat Stark.

The next three years, he worked as an assistant coach at Livonia, his alma mater. In his third year, he was the head coach for JV.

His next job was as a driving education instructor at Wayland-Cohocton, where he also coached baseball.

Then in the Fall of 1989, just weeks before the school year was to start, he heard Le Roy was looking for a new head coach. He got an interview, then a second interview, then he was hired as head coach and athletic director.

“I grew up in a community similar to Le Roy and I knew the reputation Le Roy had as a football community,” Moran said. “It’s a privilege to coach, but as I said, I’m very lucky to have been hired and given the opportunity to coach in Le Roy.”

Talk with anybody about Le Roy football and sooner, always sooner rather than later, the word “tough” is dropped into the conversation.

To play Le Roy football, you’ve got to be tough.

It’s not enough to run fast, throw lasers down the field or stand tall and strong on the line. You’ve got to be tough.

Football is a mental and emotional game, and physical ability will only get a player so far.

If the players need to be tough, the coaches need to be tougher.

“We have high expectations for our football team,” Rossi said.

The skepticism Rossi’s customers felt that autumn day in 1989 was real, but it was nothing personal. Nobody knew anything about Brian Moran. Here was this young guy coming into the community to coach their football team and his only prior experience was as an assistant and a head JV coach.

Was he tough enough?

“When you come into a program like this that has always pretty much been successful,” Rossi said, “and you’re a new guy and nobody knows a lot about you, there’s going to be apprehension as to whether he can handle the situation.”

Moran was replacing Jim Laemlein, the coach who brought Le Roy its first sectional title and first 10-win season (1984, the last year in the sectional era ((and before there were state titles)) that Le Roy went undefeated).

“He had big shoes to fill coming in after a guy like Laemlein,” Rossi said.

Taking over a storied program
That first year, Moran says he was blessed to come into a program poised to win. The Knights went 8-2 in 1988, losing a sectional title game.

“I was very fortunate,” Moran said. “We had the nucleus of a good team, a team that lost by a touchdown the year before to Clyde-Savannah. It was a great situation to be in. We were 8-2 and we played Livonia in the sectional finals. It was bittersweet to coach for a title against my old school, but we were a pretty good football team in 1989.”

The 26-12 win brought home the first Section V trophy for a Moran-coached team.

Then Le Roy hit a rut, going 1-7 in 1990, then 4-4 in 91.

That ’91 team, though, is one Moran believes to this day could have won it all if they had back then the playoff format used today.

“That third year, I thought we had a great football team,” Moran said. “If they had let eight teams in (to the playoffs), that team would have won it all. That’s how good we got by the end of the season.”

As if to prove it, the Knights went 7-1-2 the next season and cinched Moran’s second Section V title.

Through Moran’s first six seasons, the Knights were 33-21-2 with three Section V titles.

There were few people left in Le Roy who questioned whether Moran could uphold the Oatkan Knights' tradition of winning football, but the best was yet to come.

Moran says, “we went on a little bit of a run.”

From 1995 through 2008, Le Roy did not suffer a losing season. The team’s record through the 13-season span was 136-20. There was a state championship in 1995, appearances in '96 and 2004, and 10 sectional titles. Le Roy has only played for a sectional title twice since, in 2012 and 2013, losing both championship games.

Developing champions
Winning a state championship is a big deal. There’s nothing easy about navigating through the post season. The waters are choppy for even very good football teams as they advance through each round.

The best teams are always much better than nearly all of their regular season opponents. You’re only going to lose to bad luck or to that one team you might meet during the year that is also on a championship romp through the league. When post season arrives, Class B teams are no longer piling up wins against Class C and D teams in league play and the C teams are no longer playing D teams.

The class system — based on school size — is used throughout New York State.

There are no playoffs to determine conference champions. The post season is strictly a matter of the best teams playing the top teams in each class. On any given Friday or Saturday, a top-seeded school can find its season terminated by a last second score.

(more after the jump)

The difference between winning and losing isn’t ruled by the action on the field. It’s a matter of players staying focused and motivated and coaches developing successful game plans.

As Moran often says, games are won and lost in practice the week before. The practice is based on the plan, and the plan is developed by the coach and his staff.

How much of Moran’s life is turned over to football during the season?

“All day, every day,” Moran said, “just ask my wife. I’m constantly watching film early in the week, trying to watch teams a week ahead. Then I start thinking about what we’re going to do offensively and defensively. Constantly. It’s not like I’m sitting down constantly and writing things down, and I’m not watching film constantly, but it’s a thorough process that really takes up your time. You really have to think to be successful.”

Linemen might refine their footwork, receivers their cuts, quarterbacks their time. Practice is about fine-tuning the skills needed in the game.

Teams learn the schemes and plays coaches think will work best against the coming opponent.

“One week at a time” is every successful team’s mantra.

One thing Moran excels at, according to former players, is motivation.

“It was about teamwork,” said Brian Fulmer, a senior tight end in 1995. “He was motivational. We all had buy-in. It was just the way he carried himself. Everybody just bought into teamwork.”

Fulmer skipped football his sophomore year to play in basketball tournaments, a decision he now says he regrets, even though he went on to play basketball at a Division I university, Cornell.

It’s a basketball memory that Fulmer used to illustrate Moran’s ability to motivate his players. There were a couple of game periods where Le Roy’s basketball coach was away and Moran was the substitute head coach.

Before one game, going over the game plan, Moran really got into Fulmer’s head.

“ ‘There’s no reason you shouldn’t dominate this entire game,’ ” Fulmer remembers Moran telling him. “He was like, ‘yeah, you’re going to go out and kill this guy.’ I thought, ‘yeah, you’re right.’ He knew how to push the right buttons. He cared about us.”

Family is also important to Head Coach Brian Moran.

He and his second wife, Wendy, married for 16 years together for 20, enjoy their home in a well-wooded lot near Nunda. He likes to tinker in the garage when he isn’t watching game film or playing golf.

His children are all grown. Brendon, 31, played for the Knights in 2001 and was part of the team that won the 100th game for Moran and was defensive player of the year for Section V. Casey, 29, also played for the Knights. Shane, 26, works for a landscaping company and attended Livonia, and his daughter, Kaitlin, 23, also attended Livonia and just earned her teaching degree.

Moran is also proud of his brothers. Tom is a State Supreme Court judge. Sean lives near Conesus Lake. Patrick lives in St. Louis and works for General Motors.

Perhaps the proudest person in the Moran family is the coach’s mother, who still attends most of her son’s games at age 82.

“She’s a big supporter of all of us,” Moran said.

1995
In the late Summer of 1995, it was starting to look like the unthinkable might happen: there would be no football season.

Mired in budget woes, the school board was considering drastic cuts in spending.

Coming off an 8-3 season that ended in a regional playoff loss, the players and coaches thought they might have a pretty good team, but they also wanted to play.

“The board was considering a real austerity budget,” Fulmer said. “We didn’t even know if we were going to have any sports that year. We had a great group of guys, a talented, talented group. A lot of us went on and played sports in college. A lot of us probably would have gone down the road and played at a different school if they cancelled the season.”

Players, parents, fans all packed a critical board meeting. The board heard the pleas to save sports and voted against the cuts.

“We promised the fans we will bring home a state championship,” said Adam Higgins, a member of the 1994 and 1995 teams. “If not for them, we would never have had a chance to play.”

Moran had no premonition of a state championship. The season, as they all do, unfolded one game, one week at a time. The way they should, in coachspeak.

“I always say weeks four, five and six are really crucial, because it gets to the point where if you’re not getting better, you’re almost getting worse,” Moran said. “If you don’t practice well, by the time you get the end, you may not have reached your peak. You want to get to that peak performance by the end of the season.”

Moran’s praise for the 1995 team: “They got better every week through very hard work. I like the way they practiced.”

Team chemistry was a big reason the team performed so well, Fulmer said. The players didn’t just play and practice together, they had meals to together, they hung out together and they supported each other.

They didn’t put their individual issues ahead of the team.

Higgins said Moran instilled the team-first attitude through hard work and discipline. It shows, he said, by the way Le Roy teams enter the field before before games. Two silent lines, like a military platoon, walking onto the field.

“Walk, don’t talk,” was the rule, Higgins said.

It was the same procession players are expected to take leaving the practice field, and after one hot August pre-season practice, when the team thought they were out of earshot of Moran, a couple of players started cutting up. The team — the whole team — spent an extended practice running laps.

“You do everything as a team,” Higgins said. “If one messes up, all mess up. He and Andrew (Paladino, defensive coordinator) just really instilled that in us and it showed.”

Higgins was the starting QB throughout his junior year, helping the team to a sectional title in 1994, and started the season at the top of the depth chart as the field general, but before the third game of the year — which turned out to be the only loss of the season, to archival Cal-Mum — Higgins lost his starting job to a sophomore.

“It was a big, traumatic event,” Fulmer said, but how Higgins handled it really set an example of team before self, he said.

“To his credit, he didn’t externally show a lot of emotion,” Fulmer said. “He was an awesome defensive player and he just went out and played great defense. I know he was hurting inside and I hurt for him, but he shut his mouth and went out and played great defense the rest of the year.”

It was a big deal, said Higgins, who is now a high school coach himself. He spent 10 years as an assistant at Letchworth and now coaches girls swimming. To this day, he counts Brian Moran as among his best friends. They talk frequently. He’s known Moran pretty much his entire life. His best friend from elementary school is the son of Moran’s wife, Wendy.

“He brought me into his office and I could tell he was upset,” Higgins recalled of the meeting where he learned he had lost the starting QB job. “It was hard for him to tell me. I looked at him and said, ‘I’ll do whatever I can for this team.’ ”

Quarterback controversy settled, the Knights started to gel. They won their next six regular season games, then crushed East Rochester 19-0 for the Section V Class C title. They beat Eden 19-0 for the Far West Regional title, won 12-0 over Dogelville in the state qualifier and faced Saranac Lake for the state championship.

The promise to the fans who saved the team was fulfilled by a final score of 37-27.

Love
The 2014 season, Moran’s 26th and last as head coach, has been another great run for the Oatkan Knights. All but one game has been a blowout, and that game, in the end, wasn’t really very close. It’s the year in which Moran became the fourth head coach in Section V history with 200 career wins.

After each victory, Moran gathers the team around them and shares the same message that makes these points.

“I’m proud of you.”

“Get your rest, stay hydrated.”

“We have another game next week. Stay focused. Come to practice Monday ready to work.”

“Enjoy the victory, but don’t do anything stupid.”

“Do the right thing in school.”

“I love you guys.”

The precise words may change each week, but the message remains consistent.

The idea that Moran loves the kids on his team isn’t just morale-building rhetoric. It’s not hokum to con a bunch of kids into conformity. Moran gets a little misty eyed when he talks about his players, and the lifelong bonds that develop, the mutual loyalty, the commitment and devotion that develops, are strong evidence that Moran’s heart is what leads his head.

Moran doesn’t take a lot of credit for his 201 wins. He credits the kids and the community, but it’s not even the most important thing, he says.

“This is high school athletics,” Moran said. “The wins are nice, but we need to be sure we’re teaching them the things they’ll need to know to be successful in life.”

The great thing about athletics is it teaches kids that discipline and success go hand-in-hand. The lessons that lead to winning championships also carry over into careers and families.

More important to Moran than trophies are the kids who come back to the school year after year and can proudly recite for him their successes in life.

At the start of this season, five members of the 1995 championship team came to a pep rally at the school, some flying from as far away as Minnesota and Texas, to cheer on and encourage the 2014 team.

To a man, they shared how much they learned from Moran and how playing for him changed their lives.

“The things I learned from coach that helped me is don’t cut corners in your work,” Fulmer said. “It’s all about teamwork. Show respect. Don’t ever disrespect somebody in public. Certainly, my Dad’s a big influence, too, but that’s the kind of stuff I learned with Coach Moran. He showed me the best example of teamwork I’ve ever been a part of and that carries with me to this day.”

Hundreds of kids have passed through Moran’s programs at Le Roy — not just football, and not just winning teams — and many can tell similar stories.

Tim Spezzano was part of the 1-7 squad in 1990. He later coached at Le Roy, starting with seventh-graders and eventually working four years as head basketball coach for boys varsity. He now works for Tompkins Insurance and holds Moran in the highest regard.

“He was always very well prepared in his approach to coaching and that’s certainly something I take from him,” Spezzano said. “One of the things he preached at great length is do the little things well. If you do the little things well, big things will happen for you. Generally, I think of myself as somebody who is properly prepared. I think a large part of why people are successful is they are prepared.”

Life lessons, thought, don’t come wrapped in brightly colored paper with pretty bows tied on top. They come through hard work, persistence and reinforcement.

In other words, the teacher dolling out the gifts needs a firm hand and a loud mouth.

Moran knows how to get in a kid’s face when he needs to.

“What’s most important to Brian is what happens to these kids 10 years from now,” said defensive coordinator Jim Bonacquisti. “Are they better men, are they better husbands, are they successful? That all comes from Brian demanding the best from them. It’s not a touchy-feely world. It’s not about everybody getting ribbons, everybody getting an award. It’s about making yourself better.”

The one thing, though, you’ll never see Brian Moran do, says Bonacquisti, is embarrass a kid during a game or in front of his parents.

“I can recall once when I got after a kid during a game,” Bonacquisti said. “The kid was a sophomore, and Brian turned me and said, ‘we’re going to need this kid the next two years. Let’s not beat this kid down. Stay positive.’ That’s what he always reiterated, ’stay positive.’ "

Andrew Paladino, the defensive coordinator who was coaching at Le Roy five years before Moran became head coach, will also retire at the end of this season. He said Moran has always treated him well and given him the freedom to run his own squad.

Paladino said he’s sure the love and appreciation players have for Moran is genuine, honest and hard won.

“He can be a hard-ass sometimes, but he truly likes the kids and he cares about the kids,” Paladino said. “A lot of people don’t understand that, a lot of times it’s tough love but when it’s all said and done I think the kids appreciate it.”

They do, said both former team members Brian Fulmer and Adam Higgins.

Fulmer, who played Division I basketball, said Moran was the best coach he ever played for at any level.

“I won Athlete of the Year my senior year and Brian spoke at the awards ceremony,” Fulmer said. “He spoke about how hard I worked and how I was always the first guy on the field and the last guy off the field. He got a little emotional about it. I never forgot how he got a little emotional about what I did. It was the coolest moment in my life. I’d run through a wall for that guy.”

It was also the moment that an award was handed out that is a deeply imprinted memory of Moran for Higgins as well.

“I was named Best Defensive Player for the Section V championship and I was standing right next to coach when they announced the award,” said Higgins, the kid who earlier that year lost his starting QB job to a sophomore. “He looked right at me and said, ‘I was hoping and praying that you would win that award.’ That was just the bond we had.”

Moran doesn’t remember the wins nearly as much as he remembers the individual players and their big moments: Fulmer knocking down a pass in the end zone during the championship game; Justin Ausher with a key two-point conversion in that game, beating people to the goal line; Joe Miller in a title game against East Rochester running a fullback trap 53 yards for a touchdown; Tony Mason with a seven-yard run in another game against East Rochester that combined with a PAT by Kevin Price gave Le Roy a 7-6 victory.

“There are so many great memories of kids making plays that even surprised me sometimes at how well they performed,” Moran said.

The coach also remembers the non-starters, the kids who just wanted to be part of the team. He remembers the kid with Asperger's syndrome who made the team and the kid with autism who became the team manager for a couple of years.

Moran has always had a soft spot for the kids who might have some disadvantage, Bonacquisti said, whether it’s something like Asperger's or autism, or they just don’t have any money or a lot of social grace.

That comes from being picked on as a kid. Moran said he had two older brothers who always gave him a hard time.

“That’s the way life was then,” Moran said. “Nobody worried about bullying. I was always trying to keep up with them.

Every kid deserves a chance to succeed, Moran said.

“When you look at our kids here today, you don’t know where they come from sometimes,” Moran said. “You don’t know what their home life is, and really, when they come to school, it might be the brightest part of their day.”

Working with the kids who might have disadvantages is also a powerful lesson for the rest of the kids, Moran said.

“It helps them understand the issues in society,” Moran said. “Not everybody is born perfect. Some kids struggle with whatever they have. I have a granddaughter who is very handicapped and it’s tough. I want these kids to understand that they have a lot of benefits that they don’t even think about.”

The fact Moran is so inclusive is part of the reason the football program has been so successful, Spezzano said.

“It’s evident in the numbers of participants in the program,” Spezzano said. “Look at the number of the kids on the sideline. “That doesn’t happen if the focus is only on the top 11 or top 12 players.”

Yeah, Moran may be a hard-ass at times, practices may be rough, but he thinks the community and the parents understand what the larger goals are, and that it isn’t necessarily to win championships. Winning is something that is an outcome of turning boys into men.

“I’m fortunate to work in this community,” Moran said. “I get after our kids pretty good sometimes, and in other places, I don’t think they would be as accepting as we are now. When you work in a place for 26 years, I think people understand you have their kids' best interest at heart.”

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