Kickoff is upon us …
Any conversation about Salamanca football usually reverts back to 'the good old days' when legendary George Whitcher and his Warriors wouldn't lose a game.
Sadly those days are now gone, but that's not saying fifth-year coach Jason Marsh and his current crop of Warriors don't have similar aspirations to find a way to return to those days.
Marsh said his team's ultimate goal is to win a state championship. However, that mission is easier said than done, as his team isn't the only one with that goal in mind. In order to accomplish that, his team would have to first qualify for the sectional playoffs, which requires them to finish in the top four of their division, a group that contains Southwestern, Fredonia, Allegany-Limestone, Cassadaga Valley and Falconer in addition to the Warriors.
"When I look at the group of kids we have, I think that's a realisitic goal for us," Marsh said.
To start the season off, the Warriors play a non-league game at Frewsburg Sept. 4. Following the home opener against Southwestern, the team plays another non-league game, against Charles G. Finney, before ending the season with four straight league games, three of which are on the road.
Perhaps a strong point for the Warriors this season will be the offense, as several of the players will be returning; many will be playing their senior seasons.
"We have some depth with our returning guys," Marsh said. "In our backfield, we have three guys coming back - Carmen Papa (halfback), Zach Winship (fullback) and Chris LeBlanc (flanker back)."
In addition to the familiar backfield, Marsh said his offensive line will remain mostly the same, with Tyler Wass, Nick Hoard, Mike Miller, Mike Olson and DJ Morris. All five started games last year.
Marsh said the one position still under debate is the quarterback, where he has to replace Derek Whitcomb, who graduated. Currently, three guys - Ricky Askey, Christian Milanowski and Brett Smith - are vying for the position, and Marsh said he hopes to give all three equal reps before the season begins.
It looks as if Askey won that battle, as he was the lone quarterback on the gray team of the Red-Gray scrimmage, but it remains to be seen in which direction Marsh will go.
In addition to quarterback, some of the defense will need to be reworked. Marsh said he needs to replace a linebacker, a defensive end and a corner, but he is pleased with who he has now.
"I really like our size up front on defense," he said. "The guys who are playing in the box are good-sized and strong kids, and there's lot of experience there."
Last year's Warriors finished 3-6, dropping four of their last five games after a 2-2 start. The two wins early came at the expense of Cassadaga Valley amd Falconer, but the Warriors struggled against the top-level teams, the likes of Southwestern and Fredonia. Despite that, Marsh believes his team was better than their record indicated.
"We should have been better than 3-6," Marsh said.
Entering this season, Marsh said he expects much of the same competition from the league, and he believes his team can succeed if they keep their heads right.
"We need to work on maintaining our focus - that will be big in our league this year," he said. "Our league is a tight division - there's no weeks off against these teams, and a few plays separate the top teams from the bottom. You have to bring your best game every time; otherwise you'll stuggle.
"For us, it'll be improving our intensity and focus, working on staying focused and playing a complete 48 minutes of football every game," he said.
Of his competitors, Marsh noted that Southwestern should be the 'cream of the crop,' as they were the defending state champions and have four all-stars coming back. Fredonia was a Class B team last year, and they'll be dropping down a class, while Cassadaga Valley "has one of the best running backs in Western New York," Marsh said.
Without question, all eyes glued to Salamanca football are focusing on the Sept. 12 home opener against Southwestern. On this night, prior to the game, legendary coach George Whitcher will have his named attached to the press box at Veteran's Park. Several of his past players will be on hand for the ceremony, including Marsh.
"Coach Whitcher did so much for the young men in this community," Marsh said. "He touched a lot of peoples' lives in 25 years of being a football coach and he created a lot of good men."