Community, family ties make season special for Warriors football players
By SPENCER BATES, Sports Editor
While they did not win the New York State Class C title, the journey of the Salamanca football team has been a memorable and emotional experience for its players.
The Warriors’ loss to Waverly 42-0 in the NYSPHSAA Class C West semifinal on Saturday ended their historic season in the same stage it had 22 years ago — also the last time Salamanca made it to the Section 6 football final.
However, according to Lucus Brown, Salamanca’s touchdown leader on the season and Jaxson Ross, one half of the Warriors’ dynamic quarterback duo, what made it all so special was less the wins and more about the community and other external factors.
Ross thought back to the days of the Salamanca Warriors and the Salamanca Sabers, the two youth football programs in the area when he and many teammates grew up playing in. Back then they competed against one another, in recent years they became a family. This is part of the reason he believes the Warriors were able to make the run that they did and also what made it memorable.
“We were competing throughout our youth, all those years, and then finally coming together and being able to put together an amazing season, it was awesome,” Ross said.
Brown was a part of that group of younger football players and echoed Ross’ response as he recalled how great it was to play with this group of Warriors, not to mention the winning.
“It feels great,” Brown said. “Just playing with my teammates that I played with, when I was little and just getting back into it. Having a football mindset and going in and dominating every game to get to the Final Four.”
THE LAST time Salamanca football had been as successful as it was this year, some of the current coaching staff and the players’ parents were the ones taking the field. Ross remembers looking up to those teams of old and now hopes that they will now be the ones the next generation can look up to.
“All of us looked up to all those teams, we watched highlights of all those teams playing at the stadium, we were watching them the season before, because our coaches were on that team, our parents were on that team and we looked up to them, we wanted to be like them,” Ross said. “It feels amazing to be that team, that hopefully all those kids will look up to (and) watch our highlights.”
A part of that next generation may have very well been in the stands at some point this season. With home and away attendance for the Warriors noticeable all year long, there were plenty of times the crowds made a favorable difference according to Brown.
“It was huge, just having the community come out and support us every game,” Brown said. “Having them wait for us and just do a drive-by parade every time we got back in town means a lot, them focusing on us just cheering us on to victory.”
In the Section 6 Class C final against Medina, Brown and his teammates experienced the full support of the Salamanca community. In that game, he seemingly froze time with a one-handed grab deep in the endzone at Highmark Stadium, the highlight-reel worthy exclamation point in a historic win.
“It was really special,” he said. “Seeing all the community members come out to the game and support us at Highmark Stadium was amazing. It was crazy, my mind was blown from having the community come out and watch us for that game.”
Ross had a more emotional connection to this past season, losing his father after a battle with cancer in September.
A notable figure in the Salamanca community, Darren Ross had ties and touched hearts all throughout the Salamanca community. When Jaxson returned to practice only a couple days later, the support he received from his teammates and community stuck with him.
“I come back to practice two days later and all my teammates have my back,” Ross said. “We played in that game (against Cassadaga Valley) and we just played unbelievable. That will stick in my brain forever, knowing my teammates have my back. Everyone, the community, team, the coaches, just everyone being there for me.”
A THEME of the Warriors this year was the term family. The players, the coaching staff and the community were all so close knit that it started to feel like a true family for these athletes. It was clear how much it meant to everyone involved.
“It meant a lot to me, to the community, to the family members, and to the players,” Brown said. “Just going far in the season (and) accomplishing so many things that we haven’t accomplished in years.”
To summarize the season, there were almost no words for Ross as he was left “speechless” by just how amazing their accomplishments were especially after 22 years.
Brown summed it up by noting how each and every person that took the field this season for the Warriors was a leader and how special it was to be able to trust one another and be more than just a team.
“Being leaders out there, playing for one another, trusting each other to get the job done and being family members as well as a team,” Brown said.