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Haley sees energy in young Warriors

As the Salamanca football program turns 100 years old, its team brings back just four returning lettermen.

Looking at just those four players — three of them returning two-way starters — one might wonder why the district didn’t follow through on a cooperative agreement with another school. But first-year coach Paul Haley has a vastly different outlook on his Warriors.

Numbers have proven steady after spring signups. The mostly inexperienced team wants to put notions of mergers to rest.

Haley’s coaching staff also has impressed the importance of the team’s centennial on the youthful group.

“I’m not sure they follow it, but we’ve definitely talked about it every chance we get, (say) how important it is to the city, the program that it’s our 100th year and what kind of year we want to put forth,” Haley said. “After hearing basically since last fall about how we don’t have the kids or talent to compete anymore, and for this amount of kids to come out and stay out, be fired up, what we’re seeing in practice, I couldn’t be happier.”

Salamanca started last season with 51 players for varsity and junior varsity, but ended the year with 39. This year, Haley says he has 46 between the two teams, 27 of whom are listed on the varsity roster.

“It’s up, but the best part about it is we have everyone showing up every day,” said Haley, the former JV and Salamanca Sabers pee wee coach. “We’ve only had one kid drop off and we picked up three or four since we started. It’s going in the right direction.

“I don’t know what the change is, to tell you the truth. But they’re coming out and staying out.”

Of course, it’s not just numbers Haley has to replace. Despite its 3-5 record, Salamanca had a formidable group of senior skill-position players last year with quarterback Jared Fish, receivers Jimmie Nye and Andy Crandall, and running backs Tyler Siperek and Marcus Zaprowski.

“Last year’s team had such deep talent at the skill positions,” Haley said. “We’re not deep at the skill positions like they were. They could absorb an injury here or there. We don’t have the depth to cover that.”

Salamanca struggled mostly up front in 2014, not giving those playmakers enough time or space and failing to slow down the stronger offenses in its division. The Warriors sneaked into the Section Class C playoffs at 2-3 in C South, allowing an average of 44 points in four regular season losses.

“I just hope we’re going to give everyone a full, hard-nosed game from start to finish,” Haley said. “We want to be physical with teams and just get after them. We want our defense to fly around. Offensively, I think we have a little versatility where we can line up and power if we want to, but we can also spread it out and throw a little bit, too. But if our defense gets flying around like I think we can be capable of, I think it’s going to be a fun year for us.”

“It seems to me our offensive line is coming together pretty well. We’ve got some big boys and although we have a couple that are semi-new, they’re picking it up pretty well and the older kids are helping them out. Also, our linebackers, we have one kid (Jacob Spruce) who hasn’t played in two years and he’s really done well.”

With three seniors among those few lettermen, Haley said his upperclassmen have been valuable in the first weeks of practice.

“Especially Jordan Johnson, Chase Halftown, Marcus (Cooper) and Cole Quigley,” Haley said. “These guys are stepping up every day and not only are they leading us, they lead by example, and if our younger guys have questions I’ve seen a number of times where they stepped up and helped out. They’re positively reinforcing people. Our fire is starting to come back. We had a really good practice Saturday in our first day of contact. It was exciting.”

Haley said he’s just excited to see how many young players look comfortable on the varsity field already.