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Experienced Warriors tired of losing entering 2017

SALAMANCA — Paul Haley remembers a time when sophomores and freshmen almost never saw the field for the Salamanca High School varsity football team.

But Haley, who played for George Whitcher in 1992 and ‘93, had to rely far more often than he’d like on young, inexperienced athletes in his first two years coaching the SHS varsity.

The results for the Warriors, who returned just four lettermen for Haley’s first season in 2015, suffered, going 0-8 in 2015 and 0-7 in the 2016 regular season until winning a Chuck Funke Memorial Classic Bowl Game over Eden/North Collins, 26-14.

With an 18-game losing streak behind them, the Warriors moved to Class D this season and hope to begin a turnaround with the season opener next Friday at Portville.

Haley credits his 20 returning lettermen for sticking it out through the last year (or two).

“To be able to get up every day and come to practice every day after some of the games that we’ve played, it’s tough,” he said. “It’s easy to pack it in, wait for next year and go home. People nowadays are so quick to, once something gets hard, to walk away. They stuck through it, they kept fighting and showing up to practice every day, worked hard, didn’t always get the results we wanted last year but now this year it’s hopefully time to start getting the results that we’re looking for. I think we’re lucky to be in this situation now because of guys who stuck around the last few years, stepped up, stayed here and played those games that were at times brutal to watch.

“If it weren’t for those guys stepping up and pitching in we’d be Salamanca-slash-something instead of just Salamanca. They’ve carried on the tradition and now it’s time for these guys to step up and get it to the next kids to make their mark and keep Salamanca football going for the long term. They should be proud of that, but it’s time to start believing in themselves.”

Nine of those letterwinners started last season and Haley already sees leadership in seniors Nick Johnson (wide receiver/cornerback) and Braden Siebert (running back/linebacker) and junior Torri Ball (running back/linebacker).

“From Day 1 I never even said anything to those kids, they took it upon themselves to lead all the warm-up drills and stuff like that,” he said. “Those three have stepped up, it’s been going good so far.”

The Warriors have some qualities – age, experience, size – they simply lacked in recent years.

“Our depth is something that we haven’t had since (I’ve been) the varsity coach,” Haley said. “Last year we’d have an injury and we were going from seniors to freshmen or sophomores and maturity wasn’t there. This year, we have experienced players and even behind them we have kids that have played varsity football before, they know the system and all of that so you’re not stepping in with someone who is brand new.”

And Haley learned some aspects on the job the last two seasons, admitting he “threw too much” at the young teams. So he and a coaching staff including defensive coordinator Dustin Ross, special teams coach Pat Galante, JV coach Seth Hostuttler and two newcomers, Jerry Parisi and Nick Coronado, have tried a more methodical approach.

“The stuff we ran yesterday, we ran again today and it was sharper today,” Haley said. “Tomorrow we’ll do the same stuff and then add a couple more little wrinkles to it. We’re just going to keep progressing and if we feel like they’re not picking it up like we want, then we’ll back off a little bit and get caught up.

“So far it’s been a lot better and I think part of that is we’ve got experienced varsity players instead of a lot of freshmen and sophomores.”

After seeing some playing time at the end of last season, junior Zariah Armstrong steps into the quarterback role. He’ll have experienced targets including receivers Johnson