Want proof that Western New York has football talent?
Check out the Buffalo Bills’ preseason and the University at Buffalo rosters. Both are dotted with players who suited up for local high school teams, with five currently on the Bills’ preseason roster.
The odds obviously do not favor all the locals surviving final cuts with the Bills, but the UB pipeline remains open for business.
The next two Bulls in weren’t too hard to find, as both come from schools near UB Stadium with Williamsville North nose tackle Duke Hwang and Sweet Home wide receiver/defensive back Brandon Smiley recently giving verbal commitments to UB coach Jeff Quinn.
“We have a lot of great athletes,” said Smiley who paid homage to past area scholastic and UB standouts Naaman Roosevelt (St. Joe’s) and James Starks (Niagara Falls) for helping to open the Division I doors. “I’m just glad we’re getting exposure now.”
“It’s such an untapped resource,” North coach Mike Mammoliti said of the area. “UB having the foresight and the ability to go out and looking at a kid like a Duke Hwang who’s a good student and football player. To stay home and be part of that program Coach Quinn is trying to build I think is pretty special.”
Hwang and Smiley will join a program that includes 2010 News Player of the Year Joe Licata (Williamsville South), the Bulls’ starting quarterback.
Hwang also had offers from UTEP and Colgate, while receiving some interest from Syracuse, but staying home has its perks.
“It’s a good school and I wanted to get a good education,” said the 6-foot-2 nose tackle who earned third team All-WNY last year.
“He deserves the chance,” said North senior linebacker Nick Ames, who has an offer from Robert Morris. “He takes on the double teams for me. Any chance for him makes me proud.”
Smiley, a 6-1, 185-pounder who earned second team All-WNY after catching 35 passes for 10 touchdowns and 568 yards, chose UB over Massachusetts and Ivy League schools Brown and Princeton.
“He is one of our best athletes,” Panthers coach John Faller said. “He’s got good grades. He’s got everything UB is looking for in a player.”
Sweet Home opened with fitness testing followed by an afternoon practice Monday.
The Panthers enter the season in an unfamiliar position, coming off a loss to a Section VI opponent as state runner-up North beat them in last year’s sectional final, 21-12.
The loss snapped Sweet Home’s 69-game winning streak against Section VI foes and ended its six-year reign as Class A champions.
“I mentioned it at our team talk in the beginning and really all I said was the seniors there didn’t finish what they started out to do last year and that was to win the sectional championship,” Faller said. “It’s this seniors’ legacy and the juniors that are with them to see what they are going to do. Last year is over. It was a tough loss but every loss is and we knew it was coming sooner or later.”
There will be a new Class A champion this season as North’s enrollment increased, meaning the Spartans are now part of Class AA North.
“It’s a very good possibility people may underestimate us again,” said Ames of his team’s chances for success. Mammoliti countered, don’t bet on that. Advances in video scouting and being a state finalist make the Spartans hard to overlook.
The numbers were better than expected for two-time defending state Class D champion Randolph. Coach Brent Brown and his staff welcomed 60 prospects while they were figuring on just 50 showing up.
The Cardinals start the season on a 23-game winning streak, third best in the state behind Maine-Endwell (38) and Babylon (24).
“The first thing we talked about is how we’re going to approach it,” said Brown. “You have to remember it’s the work that gets you there and sometimes they have a hard time figuring that out. … We lost six on offense and four on defense. We have a lot work to do.”
Defending Section VI Class AA champion Jamestown had 100 players show up for its first day of practice. Roughly 45 will make a varsity team whose strength appears to be its line, led by returning All-WNYer Joe Mistretta. The Red Raiders’ main task: replacing record-setting quarterback and News Player of the Year Jake Sisson. All-WNY receiver Zach Panebianco and Nick Holland are vying for the QB job.
Veteran Orchard Park coach Gene Tundo was asked is this opening day as exciting as your first one? “It’s better,” he said. “The first year I didn’t know what the heck I was doing.” … Darren Thompson and Ryan Conschafter will be among the players St. Joe’s hopes fill the void left by graduated All-WNY picks Nigel Davis and Rod Payne. Senior David Archer will start at QB for injured junior Mike McCarthy, who suffered a season-ending knee injury seven weeks ago, coach Dennis Gilbert said.