By Rich Place

The leaves may not yet have appeared on the trees, but Section VI recently unveiled its 2018 master football schedule to get fans and teams ready for when autumn comes knocking at the door.

For the SGI Griffins varsity football team, the schedule includes a healthy mix of old and new opponents and four home games, including a Thursday night matchup in early October that’s part of a three-game homestand to end the regular season.

Absent from the schedule is Dunkirk — a team SGI has played for at least the last decade — due in part to some changes in the Class B alignment, according to Rob Valenti, SGI varsity head coach and Section VI Class B chairman. Meanwhile, traditional rivals Pioneer and Olean are on the schedule again for another year.

The Griffins will begin their season Friday, Aug. 31 in Bemus Point against Maple Grove, marking the first time in history the teams will face each other. The Red Dragons advanced to the state Class D Championship last year before losing to Cambridge.

“Right out of the gate we are starting very strong,” Valenti said. “Keeping with the program value that we have, we want to play staunch competition to better ourselves for league play, and I think this completely falls in line with that mindset.”

The home opener for the Griffins will be the following week, Sept. 7, when they host the newly combined Medina/Lyndonville/Barker squad. Valenti said it’ll be the fourth time in school history SGI will face Medina, with the most recent contest coming in 2011.

The following weeks are road games against Olean on Sept. 14 and against Lackawanna on Saturday, Sept. 22.

“We haven’t played Lackawanna since 2010,” Valenti said. “They are back on the schedule as a league game, so that restores quite a bitter rival — bringing it back from the ‘90s when Springville and Lackawanna were winning state titles.”

The homecoming game is tentatively set for Friday, Sept. 28 when Albion comes into town. The matchup begins a season ending three-game homestand for the Griffins.

“It’s definitely an awesome way to close out, at home,” Valenti said.

In the sixth week of the season, Springville has the opportunity to play a unique Thursday night matchup at home against Depew. The game was proposed for a Thursday night due, in part, to a shortage of officials for Friday night games, Valenti said.

“I think it’s a unique opportunity,” he added, noting there are a “couple irons in the fire” when it comes to finding a unique theme for the evening to bring out the student body and community.

The regular season ends with a visit from Pioneer on Friday, Oct. 12.

“They’re affectionately referred to as the neighbors and there is definitely a rivalry there,” Valenti said. “We had their number for a couple seasons and they definitely got some payback last year, so we’re primed and ready to go, for sure.”

Notable this year is the four home game schedule for the Griffins; the three home games last year had a different theme. That’ll continue this year, said Valenti.

Although not confirmed, tentative plans are to have the second annual Teacher Appreciation Night on the Sept. 7 game against Medina; the homecoming game and Pop Warner Hall of Fame induction during the contest against Albion on Sept. 28; a unique celebration for the Thursday night matchup against Depew on Oct. 4 and the annual “pink out” game and senior night when Pioneer visits on Oct. 12.

“We have these nice little nuances that we mold around the games themselves,” Valenti said, “so to have four (home games) and keep all those things in place is really exciting.”

Although the first game of the season is still more than four months away, the Griffins players and coaching staff are already preparing for the upcoming season.

“Last offseason I think was an anomaly if you look at it in the scope of the last four years,” said Valenti. “We had some transition, some turnover, some coaches leaving the program. So it took a couple extra months to just reorganize the staff and to have a plan in order before we could roll that out with the kids.”

This year, some players started in the weight room in January with a strength and conditioning program and the team participated in a 7-on-7 tournament against Cardinal O’Hara, Alexander and Tonawanda at the fieldhouse at New Era Field in Orchard Park on Sundays in March.

“We got some nice work in and got to throw the ball around in March,” Valenti said. “We’ve been busy and clicking.”