By T. J. Oakley
On a picturesque Friday morning, my wife and I walked across a dew drenched, foggy field to see first-hand the beginnings of something great. As we continued forth, a clamor echoed from within the mist. The beautiful sounds of late summer roused an excitement that was familiar, yet as euphoric as ever. The fog began to dissipate and revealed a sight as stupendous as the tree on Christmas morning: football is upon us!
Set up on a practice field behind the Springville Griffith Institute high school stood a large group of local youths, gathered by 10 coaches and surrounded by the love of a game. They practice with precision and purpose, displaying a cohesiveness similar to the workings of a finely-tuned watch. Varsity and JV squads work nearly beside one another, which promotes teamwork between the players and coaches of both units.
I was able to first speak with head coach Joseph Marvin, assistant coach Brian Kader and two volunteers, who together comprise the coaching staff for the Griffins JV team. Marvin, who played football at Buffalo State and has been coaching for nearly two decades, led a group of young men from the field after the morning session of a twice-a-day practice. The coaches explained that their squad is comprised of youth from 8th through 10th grades, as the modified program has been dissolved. The impressively personable coaches outwardly show their excitement not only for the upcoming season, but also for the privilege they have to help mold these young men into punctual, responsible and accomplished members of our community.
While the players rested and refueled in preparation for their second session of practice, I was refreshed by the sight of these kids— all of different races, age, and economic backgrounds—not only working together on the field, but also joking and supporting one another like family, while breaking for lunch. Few things like team sports can create such an unbreakable bond.
I spoke to a dozen players that predictably chose to speak as a group rather than assert individuality, as unity is their strength. Although the description of the rigors of practice and the details of their schedule were enough to make this old man ache, these guys spoke of their work with a prideful joy. 65 players make up the JV and Varsity squads.
At the onset of the second session, assistant coach Rob Valenti of the Varsity team took time out of practice to lend some insight into this year’s Springville Griffins team.
Valenti, who is also a full-time teacher at the high school, stated, “The team has very high expectations for this year.”
The Griffs are coming off of a 7-1 season, in which they lost their final game in the playoffs against Cheektowaga. Valenti went on to say that the Griffins will execute the run-oriented Triple Option offense that they have been improving upon since its installation in 2010. Last year, this team broke four long-standing school records for offense.
Many returning starters to this year’s team are poised to have breakout seasons. Connor O’Brien is a 6’1”, 200 lb. QB who looks to lead the Griffins to a long, successful season.
He is joined by Lexus Pollard, who transferred back from JFK high school to the greener pastures of Springville.
Valenti was also excited to talk about senior Ian Baker who plays FB. He praised, “Ian was great for us last year, and I’m excited to see what he does this season.” Last year, Baker broke Mark Rendell’s record of five rushing TD’s in a game (set in 1996), and tied the single game TD record of 6, shared with Rick Rudolph in 1971 and Devin Kearns in 2014.
When asked about safety in relation to youth football, Valenti made it clear how this important subject is constantly focused on among the teams. He noted, “All the coaches on staff participate in safety courses and must receive a certificate for the training.” He added that parents are encouraged to be knowledgeable of the same training, and to be vocal with any concerns or observations. “Much of the risk can be avoided by teaching proper tackling technique,” he said. “We make sure they know not to lead with their heads.” It’s evident from speaking to the coaching staff that they work hard to mitigate risk, while encouraging these young men to enjoy the invaluable experiences afforded by the game.
Led by Varsity head coach Eric Jantzi, there are 10 coaches in total—five of them unpaid volunteers who donate their time to this staple of American society.
There are two open schedule opponents each year, and the Griffs chose to schedule opponents from a division higher than their own. Valenti stated, “They prefer to add tougher competition to the schedule, to test the team and bring the best out in themselves.”
This year, the Griffins will play against two Section 6 AA teams when they host Frontier on Sept. 9 for the home opener, and then again when they drive down to Jamestown to face one of the area’s best football programs on Oct. 1.
Your first chance to watch your hometown team is Sept. 2 at Brocton High school versus Fredonia/WB (Westfield/Brocton). There are only seven regular season games, with four at home, so be sure to make plans to be out at the field as much as possible. These young men and their coaches are putting in hard work, and are poised to show the fruits of their labor. Come support our boys so that you, too, can witness them strive for greatness while learning the virtues of team, effort, and tradition. Go Griffs!