By Sam Wilson
The numbers are a bit lower than usual, and a new coach is in charge of the Springville-Griffith Institute football team, but some strong line play and an experienced quarterback have Mark Heichberger sounding optimistic before his first season.
Heichberger takes over a Griffins team that went 0-8 last season. But last year’s SGI squad set school records in the passing game led by quarterback Nick Emmick, who returns as a senior, along with four players with starting experience on the line.
“They’re a bunch of really good kids,” Heichberger said of his first impressions of the team early in the second week of practice. “Besides that, they’re willing to learn new things. They keep a positive attitude, and we’ve got a long way to go. Our numbers are small, so it’s tough. We’re going to ask a lot of guys as far as we’re going to have a lot of two-way players. So we need to be in shape, we need to work on our conditioning because there’ll be kids that don’t leave the field too much.”
Springville has about 46 players for varsity and junior varsity this year.
“It’s really going to depend on a few sophomores that we’re looking at right now whether they’re going to play JV or varsity,” Heichberger said. “We’ve pulled a couple sophomores up to play varsity already and there’s a chance that maybe one more will join us after the scrimmage on Saturday, one more might join us, might stay on JV, it’s just what we need to do to make the best team we can make.”
Along with Emmick, Jake Cieszynski, David Thompson, Tom Fite and Aaron Keyser return as starters for SGI.
Cieszynski returns at inside linebacker and will move from guard to “H-back.” Thompson is a returning center but will likely switch to guard and start at defensive end. Fite returns at offensive tackle and Keyser is set to return at guard and defensive tackle. With that much experience up front, Heichberger expects to start the season with a solid offensive line.
“We are searching for a center right now, since we moved Dave to guard, now we’re looking for someone who can consistently get the ball to the quarterback,” he said. “Right now we’re giving our first chance to Trevor Maracle, who’s a senior. Marc Meissner is competing for that spot, he’s also a senior, and I’m hoping if all goes well it’s going to be one of those two guys as my starting center. With that being said, I’m pretty confident that our line’s going to be able to do pretty good things.”
Emmick, meanwhile, is unquestionably the leader of the Griffins.
“Not only by the position he plays as a quarterback but his work ethic,” Heichberger said. “When we run sprints, he’s always pushing the group to run faster. He’s a leader by example. He’s always giving it 100 percent. So he’s a coach on the field. If something doesn’t look right during practice, he’ll say, ‘Coach, this might work a little better.’ He’s a leader by example and he’s so smart football-wise, he’s just a great kid.”
Heichberger admits the job as a first-time head coach brings some unexpected responsibilities, but ones he’s happy to take on, and hopes to have a better handle on a year from now.
“There’s a lot more to being the head coach than most people see,” he said, “as far as stuff outside of the X’s and O’s: dealing with media, dealing with the boosters club, there’s paperwork, talking to parents, there’s just a lot more to it than showing up at the start of practice and coaching the kids and leaving at the end. But it’s a good thing. You get to see the whole arena, everything that goes into it. When I walked in, we were short on knee pads, so we had to order knee pads. All of a sudden we ran out of girdles that we can hand out, so we had to order girdles and I truly believe next year, as far as all that goes, it’ll be a little easier. But there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye in a sense.”
Springville opens the season on Friday night at Pop Warner Field against East Aurora/Holland in a non-league game.
The Griffins play in the Western New York B3 division, one of four five-team divisions in Section 6, competing with Olean, Albion, Depew and Lackawanna. Only the top two teams from each division make the playoffs.
“We need to see a little more aggressiveness and we have to see that fight for the entire game, Heichberger said. “Right now, since we haven’t really gone against an opponent, it’s going to be interesting to see if things get tough, what are they going to do. We want them to basically dig down deep and give everything they have and that’s what we’re trying to instill in them, but that’s not something that we see naturally right now out of them.”