By Sam Wilson
Mark Heichberger has a vision for the Springville-Griffith Institute varsity football team, and it doesn’t entirely have to do with the product on the field.
Heichberger, who was appointed as the Griffins’ next coach in January, became a head varsity football coach for the first time after 23 years as a teacher in the district, many of those years as an assistant varsity or junior varsity coach. So he’s seen SGI football up close for parts of three decades.
“I want the team to be something that Springville can be proud of,” Heichberger told the Times last week. “I want good people as coaches. I want the kids to not only learn about football but learn about life and doing the right things and how to be successful, and there’s a lot more to a football program than just X’s and O’s.”
Heichberger played high school football as a two-way lineman at Gowanda and a year at Canisius College under coach Tom Hersey. After graduation, he spent a year as an assistant modified coach at Williamsville East.
“When I got to Springville, there were no (football) coaching positions open,” he said. “The football team was really good and everybody wanted to coach back in the day. Jimmy Duprey was the coach. So I did a couple years of soccer, actually, before I got back into football.”
He spent years under several coaches, including Bill Baker, Ron Tamraz, Joe Marvin and John Sopko, as either varsity assistant or JV head coach.
“The position came open and it’s something that I’ve always thought about doing,” Heichberger said of becoming head coach. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and it just felt like this was the right time.”
Heichberger’s staff will include Brian Kader and Bob Ball as varsity assistants, along with Tyler Conklin helping with the JV and varsity teams. Duane Boberg is the JV head coach, assisted by Kevin Mumbach, and Emilio Mancino is head modified coach with John Baker as a modified assistant. The coaching staff, Heichberger said, will play a key role in making a team “Springville can be proud of.”
“We just completed our coaching staff and I feel like we have at all levels and at every position, good people in those spots,” Heichberger said. “The next thing is just trying to show and make the kids understand what the expectations are. Lay down those expectations and just keep on them day after day after day. That’s what we’re going to talk about, doing the right thing.
“We’ve already talked as a staff and I’ve spoken with each coach individually,” he continued. “Our mission is going to be the same. We want our playbook to be our playbook, the Springville playbook, not just the varsity, JV and modified. Now we can make some variations of plays, but when a kid moves from level to level, we’re not going to have to start back over at teaching them the basics. So we’re going to try to be — as they say — as vertically and horizontally aligned as possible.”
While practice doesn’t officially start until mid-August, the offseason should still be a busy one for the Griffins. SGI has already finished 7-on-7 competition in the spring and had its weight room open until last Tuesday, giving the team this week off.
“We’re giving them a little time off, then July 8, we’ll start our summer work,” Heichberger said. “So we go Monday-Thursday, 7-9 o’clock every morning and then we’ll go up to two weeks before the first official day of practice. We’ll have our team camp. That’ll be an extra half hour, 7-9:30. Then we’ll give them one week off and then we’ll have our first official day of practice will start.”
Heichberger doesn’t expect to have a large group of returning letterwinners but is encouraged by the team’s talent.
“The number of kids returning at the varsity level seem to be pretty small, but the kids we have who are coming back and are going to be seniors, I think we have some very talented kids,” he said. “We have a good group that will be moving up from JV to varsity. So I can say it’s going to be interesting. I think overall it’s a good group of guys.”