Getting stronger as a football team isn’t always accomplished in the weight room.

Canisius took a unique approach to its offseason strength training and the payoff wasn’t only an undefeated season, but a sweep of two prestigious postseason honors. The Crusaders were the unanimous No. 1 ranked large school in final Buffalo News poll and coach Rich Robbins was named the Buffalo Bills/NFL Coach of the Year.

“I think the biggest thing we did in the offseason is put the footballs and the weights away and everything as we did a lot of team-building stuff,” said Robbins. “We went to Lasertron [Interactive Entertainment Center], we went to some movies, and we did a team retreat at the Harvest House in South Buffalo. Before we did an X and O, and before we ever pulled the footballs out, we had to make sure we had 50 boys who really cared about each other and were going to play hard for each other.”

The approach worked as Canisius finished 11-0, beating rival St. Joe’s along the way before knocking off Timon/St. Jude in the Monsignor Martin Association championship game played at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

The Crusaders secured all 10 first-place votes in the poll on the way to winning their first title in the poll’s 32-year history. Orchard Park owned the No. 1 stop in the first five weeks of voting, but a loss to Jamestown opened the door for Canisius and it stayed on top for the remaining six weeks of voting.

Serving on the large school poll were: Sean Bruso (North Tonawanda assistant), Jim Craig (official), Dick Gallagher (WNY High School Sports), Doug Hartmayer (official), John Lewis (Connolly Cup), Larry Michael (official), John Rutkowski (official), Mark Adair (publisher, Football Weekly), Dennis Sarow (Connolly Cup) and Keith McShea (The News).

“It starts with a great group of kids,” said Robbins. “Kids who were passionate about what we were trying to do and really bought into everything that we gave them. We got beat up last year as a young team. A lot of these guys learned some hard lessons and they dedicated themselves to making sure their senior year was more successful.”

Alden secured nine of 10 first-place votes to win its third consecutive small school poll title. The other first place vote went to Randolph, winners of the Class D state title. The Bulldogs (11-1) held the No. 1 spot all season. They took an 11-0 record into the Class B final four where they lost to eventual champion Maine-Endwell.

The small school pollsters were: Adair, Bruso, Gallagher, Sarow, Charlie Jufer (Wilson), Matt Perillo (official), Angelo Sciandra (Cardinal O’Hara coach), Jay Sirianni (Southwestern coach, Class C South), Ed Sciera (Trench Trophy), and McShea (The News).

The Coach of the Year was chosen among the previous Coach of the Week selections over an 11-week span. Eligible for the award were: Charlie Comerford (Timon/St. Jude), Bob North (Westfield/Brocton), Dennis Gilbert (St. Joe’s), Jim Maurino (West Seneca East), John Sopko (Springville), Tom Langworthy (Jamestown), Mark Ostempowski/Jeff Sabintino (JFK), Greg Bronson (Lockport), Dick Diminuco (Alden), John Faller (Sweet Home) and Robbins.

When Robbins said he was not alone in his coaching success, he wasn’t kidding. Helping him were his nine assistants: Tom Coppola, Bryan Gorman, Paul Novotny, Alejandro Overton, Marty Glose, Clinton Hawkins, Morgan Collins, Scott Walters and Bryce Hopkins.

Serving on the Coach of the Year selection committee were: Ken Stoldt (Section VI Football Federation), Gallagher (WNY High School Sports), Larry Michael (official), Adair (publisher, Football Weekly), Denny Lynch (Buffalo Bills), Preston Teague (Buffalo Bills, non-voting), Kevin Kelleher (ADPRO Team Sports) and The Buffalo News.