Cheektowaga’s perseverance should pay off in 2013 run
It was how they played those final three games — not so much the undefeated regular season or the second straight Class B West title — that impressed Mike Fatta the most.
“We had a bunch of guys fall off at the end for different reasons,” said the second-year head coach. “The group that was left are the guys we have today. They’re a tight-knit group and they want to make it happen.”
Cheektowaga beat Maryvale in the season finale and then Lew-Port in the Class A quarterfinals before being upset by Springville at home in the semifinals. They played while missing nine feature players on both sides of the ball, and fell short of playing for a sectional title at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
“We came up one game short the last two years, so they’re thinking anything short of that is going to be a failure for them,” said Fatta. “I love these guys and we’re trying everything we can to get them there.”
Not advancing to the sectional championship since winning it in 2009, last year’s team had a chance at greatness, as well. They broke program records for points in a single game (60) and season (309) with a 7-0 regular season before finishing 8-1.
As disappointed as they were at the end of last season, the Warriors understand that they have to take it one game at a time to reach their goals.
“We have to take it step by step,” said senior Kobe Walenka, a First Team Class B West middle linebacker in 2012 who led the team in tackles. “We’re most excited about that first game. That’s all I’m thinking about.”
Cheektowaga is eager to be opening the season in Syracuse against Section V Jamesville-DeWitt at the Carrier Dome on Saturday, Sept. 7.
Carrying the team this year will be the big guys up front on offense and defense. Standing at 6-foot, 202-pounds, Robert Wilson is by far the smallest of the bunch.
“I think I did good last year, but I can always improve,” said the junior who was a Second Team Class B West center last year. “This year is going to be a lot better.”
Wilson will be alongside a few returning seniors, including guard John Loncher, who was a Class B West Second Team selection.
“We got a lot of kids that want to hit and are dedicated to the team and practice hard every day,” said the 6-foot, 312-pound Loncher.
At the other guard spot will be Trévon Harrell, who did not play in his first game last fall until Week Five after moving here from Baltimore. However, the 6-foot-2, 310-pound lineman improved enough on both sides to be seen as a leader for his senior campaign.
“Last year I came in as a newbie and had to work my way up,” said Harrell, who will again be next to Loncher at defensive tackle, too. “But they saw how I worked and what I was capable of doing and making others do, too.”
All-division first team defender Matt Bartnik and offensive honorable mention Chris Dawson are also returning to their respective lines to add to the senior leadership.
There will also be a surplus of talent at the skill positions. Seniors such as Davion Stallworth, Kenny Dillenburg, Louis Hyatt and junior Robert Pulley return after making an impact in 2012.
But the most dangerous of those skill players is Preston Summers. He made game-winning interceptions on his way to being selected as an all-state cornerback in his junior season. Summers will also be an offensive weapon for Cheektowaga, leading the backfield as a dual threat runner and receiver, after once sharing the load with a talented backfield.
“We’re all closer than what we were last year,” said Summers. “We got the players, we’re skilled and athletic. We just have to stay together.”
Senior Tim Whelan and junior Zak Ciezki are two quarterbacks who are more than capable of running the offense. As Whelan led the charge in 2012, Ciezki leads a group of former junior varsity players such as Jerell Rolling, Marshawn Gibson and Ian Wittmer that are ready to make immediate impacts after going unbeaten last fall.
As the Class B West, East and South were divided into just two divisions this season (North and South), Cheektowaga will look to capture its third straight division title while competing in the North. But even with the high expectations, the Warriors are reluctant to put themselves on a pedestal, just yet.
“I would never feel like the favorite. I don’t approach it like that,” noted Fatta. “We’ve had success here, but we’ve also been 2-6. We’ve had a 4-4 year here and a 5-3 year. You remember those things and you don’t take anything for granted.”