Reflections on Salamanca’s historic ‘99 football run (Part 1/3)

(Editor’s note: This is the first in a three-part weekly series on the 1999 Salamanca football season, which culminated in the program’s first state championship game appearance.)

Rich Morton walked into the head coach’s office with high expectations, internally and externally.

Morton, of course, replaced a legend in George Whitcher, Salamanca’s coach from 1974-98. Whitcher left the program in outstanding shape, going 9-2 in his final season and winning a Section 6 championship.

But the program reached new heights in 1999, as Salamanca won a Far West Regional for the first time in school history and reached its first-ever state championship game appearance.

Morton and several key players from the ‘99 state finalist team recently spoke with The Press to reflect on the 20th anniversary of that school year.

“Thinking back on that group of kids, it was amazing the kind of athletes they were and the kind of dominance that they brought,” Morton said. “Their commitment to being the kind of athletes they were, playing at that level and the excellence that they expected from themselves, not only from them but from everybody else around them. That era was full of kids that were very outstanding athletes in their own right. It’s easy when you have those types of kids that are committed to the program like they were. It was easy to see why they were successful.”

MORTON SAW early on, in summer weight training sessions, the kind of committed athletes he would be working with in his first season as head coach.

“It was just kind of their expectation of themselves and where they wanted to be,” he said. “It wasn’t like a job or like they didn’t like coming. It was fun for them. They enjoyed being in the weight room in the summertime and going out and working on all the extra stuff on the track, inside the track after we would lift. The chemistry of those kids was just really neat to be around because their expectations were high. They expected that from everybody around them. If you weren’t giving it a hundred percent effort, they’re going to let you know about it. They were just a fun group of kids to be around. They kind of made my job easy.”

But the on-field talent became clear a week before the regular season, when the Warriors dominated their annual scrimmage.

“We were scrimmaging Pioneer, I still remember the last play,” Morton said. “They were on the goal line and we had to stop them. Chris Drugg, who pound for pound, I don’t think there was a tougher kid at any position … and they had one one of