Warriors relish chance to make history ahead of final
By SPENCER BATES Sports Editor
The journey may have been long and bumpy, but at the end of the day it's the destination that matters for Salamanca football.
For the first time since 2001, the Warriors will make their return to the Section 6 Class C final at Highmark Stadium, home of the Buffalo Bills. A treat for all football finalists in the section, the opportunity to play in a real NFL stadium is cherished not only by the players, but by coaches as well.
Salamanca coach Chad Bartoszek has shared the field with a number of great players throughout his career and has seen a great deal of success in the coaching field as well. However, the opportunity to bring a team that he has such deep ties with in the community to the stadium is something of a dream come true.
“When you start reaching a certain age, you want to fulfill some goals and some dreams,” Bartoszek said. “I had a pretty good playing career and a pretty good coaching career, but this is a little different. The Salamanca Warriors is home and the program is everything to me and our family and the community. So having the opportunity to show some of the hard work (has paid off). The fact that we get to play here shows them what they're capable of.”
Pictured are members of the Salamanca football team on the field at Highmark Stadium during Section 6 Championship Media Day on Tuesday. The Warriors are set to face undefeated Medina at 1 p.m. Friday. Front row (from left): Jaxson Ross, Arlen Newark, Warrick Kyler, Lucus Brown, Joshua Auman, (back row) Kyle O’Donnell, Paul Furlong, Chad Bartoszek and Aaron Hill (Sam Wilson Sports Group Editor)
BEFORE the first official snap of the regular season, Bartoszek and the Warriors had the collective goal of wanting to get past that last hurdle. In past years where they fell just short of reaching the stadium, this year there was a commitment to finally see their desires come to fruition. With a talented squad at his disposal, the one thing that threw a wrench into the mix was the injury bug. Yet, they continued to win. This is thanks to the depth that has been such a theme for Salamanca all year.
“We knew this season we had a special group,” Bartoszek said. “We weren't expecting to face the injuries that we faced … Being able to balance and step up week to week has been a huge part of our success.”
If there was a player that embodies this theme it’s quarterback Jaxson Ross who has 38 complete passes for 765 yards, 10 touchdowns and only one interception on the year. Maddox Isaac, Salamanca’s other quarterback, has had his bout with injuries throughout the season. But when they needed him most, there was Ross. The next man up mentality has been ingrained in the Warriors culture this season. With the players being as close as they are off the field, it only helps them focus on the task at hand on the field.
“We have so many athletes, we're a family,” Ross said. “Nobody gets mad at someone or gets upset if they switch in and out. We're a family. We have our jobs. We stick to them.”
The word family is often used by members of the Warriors, signifying the relationship the players have with one another. Lucus Brown, Salamanca’s touchdown leader on the season with eight on 17 receptions and 444 yards, said getting to the stadium with this group of teammates makes it mean just that much more.
“It means something special to my whole family, my whole team,” Brown said. “Just being here and just enjoying this, embracing it all, us getting here, all the hard work we put in practice day in and day out. Making sacrifices and working until we got here.”
PLAYING in Highmark Stadium, or “the Ralph” as Bartoszek refers to it, was a mainstay in the history of Salamanca football, albeit not in a while. The group of players that will take the field on Friday have heard all of the stories of past Salamanca football glory and will now get to experience it for themselves.
“When you grow up in Salamanca as a kid, you hear about all the old teams … the good old days,” Bartoszek said. These guys have been working with that in the back of their minds since they were young. When you get to experience ‘the Ralph’ it just promotes all the qualities that we're asking of these student-athletes.”
As for the game itself, the key is to not change too much according to Bartoszek. While they will implement certain things and practice properly this week, the goal is to stick with what got them to the final in the first place.
“At this point, you are who you are,” Bartoszek said. “The other part is that we're here for a reason, just like Medina is. They’re pretty good at what they do. We're pretty good at what we do. Let's see how we play it out on the field.”
Now just one win away from a sectional title and not just getting over the hurdle of getting to the final, but bounding beyond it. A smile was brought to Ross’ face when he started to think of where a win in Highmark Stadium would rank amongst all of his sporting achievements thus far. According to him, it would be a dream come true.
“Winning here would be amazing,” Ross said. “It's a dream, a dream (I’ve had) since I was a little kid. Coming here, watching the teams play since I was little, I always wanted to be on this field and I always wanted to win here. It would rank in the highest (moments) for sure.”
Ross, Bartoszek, Brown and the rest of the Salamanca Warriors will have the opportunity to turn fantasy into reality on Friday as they take on the undefeated No. 1 Medina with kickoff slated for 1 p.m.