‘Seasoned’ Salamanca to be put to the test by Class D schedule

SALAMANCA — These players helped bring Salamanca football back above .500 after two winless regular seasons. Now, can they build on it against a daunting schedule?

Approaching his fourth season, coach Paul Haley said the Warriors embraced the difficult path they’ll face, showing more commitment than previous summers in the weight room. “There’s no doubt,” Haley said, that a taste of winning (Salamanca went 5-4 with a consolation bowl victory over Cattaraugus-Little Valley) contributed to the renewed interest this summer.

“Getting a little bit more talented kids and also kids that want to be here and are willing to put the time in to make themselves better,” Haley said of how the team started to turn around last fall. “These kids, they started hitting the weights last summer and then this year it's really grown. We had a really good summer this year, so it's just the kids are starting to buy into our system and what it takes to prepare for the season.”

Seniors Ira John (linebacker) and Tyler Hedlund (safety) both made Class D first-team all-league last season on defense while becoming two of the team’s strongest playmakers at running back or wide receiver. Hedlund earned a defensive Big 30 All-Star honor as a junior.

Several members of the Class of 2019, like John and Hedlund, saw action during a winless 2015 season as freshmen, but stuck with the team and saw some rewards last season.

“You get a couple of seasons like we had and it's frustrating and the temptation is to go someplace else but between Ira John and Tyler Hedlund, those are two kids that a lot of these other kids feed off,” Haley said. “They're Salamanca kids. They were willing and they've paid the price to bring the tradition back and now this is their year to shine. So we're excited to have the those two leading us.”

Ira John ran for 663 yards, including his first career 200-yard game, and scored six touchdowns last season. Tyler Hedlund made 64 tackles, scored four touchdowns on 376 yards rushing and had an 86-yard punt return TD. Asa John made 37 tackles with three sacks.

The Warriors return 20 letterwinners including nine starters, four of them linemen. Another returning starter, Tristen Gillette, saw time on the line last year but moved to the backfield this year. Along with the return of Xavier Taylor, who lettered as a sophomore but moved away as a junior, the Warriors expect to have a depth of running backs next to returning quarterback Zariah Armstrong.