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No longer a Cinderella, Springville varsity football sets lofty goals

SPRINGVILLE 2013 VARSITY FOOTBALL CAPTAINS — Pictured are Springville’s 2013 captains from left: Drew Scharra, Bobby Fisher, Brandon Ball and Ethan Benz. Photo by David DeLuca.
SPRINGVILLE — Springville got to The Ralph a year ago, for the Class B championship, now they have to win there. That is the expectation for a team that strung off five-consecutive wins, before losing to Alden in the title game. This year, the Griffs will be built around a 15-player senior nucleus, that will try to lead Springville to a Section VI title.

“We have a lot of seniors this year,” said Coach John Sopko, who is entering his fourth year as the head coach of Springville-Griffith Institute. ”These seniors have been part of the rebuilding process, for four years. They were freshman when we installed the triple-option and the 4-2-5 defense. These are guys who have been educated and exposed to what we’re doing here.”

Ethan Benz is entering his senior year and will be looked upon as a two-way starter playing slot-back and outside linebacker. Benz is a three-year starter and has the most varsity experience on Springville’s roster. Benz will captain the team, along with returning starters Bobby Fisher, Drew Scharra and Brandon Ball. Fisher has switched positions, on both sides of the ball. He is transitioning from playing fullback to playing tight end, on offense, and he will go from acting as a standup outside linebacker to putting his hand in the dirt, at defensive end.

“The transition has been pretty good; I’ve just been taking the reps and working hard,” said Fisher. “I played some d-end on JV, so I know some of the basic technique and responsibilities. At tight end, I know I can block and I have some skill to catch the ball too, so it’s a nice spot for me.”

Scharra is competing with junior Devin White-Kearns, to replace the graduated Billy Dickinson at quarterback. Scharra played some split end and was the team’s punter, last season. Scharra talked about the Griffs needing to be efficient, if they want to get back to the stadium.

“We have to take advantage of the opportunities, when they present themselves,” he said. “When we get inside the five-yard-line or the 10 and even the 20, we have to score. We can’t get stopped on the one-yard line or the two-yard line; we just have to execute.”

Replacing Chris Phinney, the All-State honorable mention and Class B South Defensive Player of the Year, will be senior Josh Cieslica, who will be the team’s fullback, in the triple-option offense and the teams middle linebacker.

Cieslica is a three-starter and really came on in the end of last season. He scored the game-winning, 19-yard touchdown, late in the fourth quarter against Eden, in the quarterfinals of the playoffs and scored a touchdown in Springville’s win over Cheektowaga, that punched the team’s ticket to The Ralph. After getting 32 carries, last season, he is looking to be more involved, this season.

“I’m really hoping to, I mean, nobody can replace Chris Phinney,” Cieslica said. ”He was just an awesome athlete. But with watching him, the last two years, I learned that you can achieve anything, if you just push yourself and work hard.”

Springville has both of their starting slot-backs returning from last year, in seniors Benz and Ty Conklin. Other backs that will be looked upon to run the ball are Talon Berry, Nate Wolcott and Tommy Schweickert, who rushed for more than 1,600 yards on JV, last year. The Griffs were the only team in Section VI, a year ago, to have four players with at least 400 yards rushing. Replacing Phinney and Dickinson will also involve replacing their combined 212 carries.

“We have a lot of guys that will share the ball,” Benz said. “We have a lot of talented receivers, slot backs and a couple good quarterbacks. We can share the ball and we’re all going to get the ball a lot more than we did, last year.”

“I feel like we can all push each other to do better,” added Wolcott, about his fellows backs. “The competition will definitely make us play and practice at our best.”

Conklin, who ran for 585 yards and 5 touchdowns last year said he wants to get back to the Ralph.

“We’re going to strive to get back there,” Conklin said. “We’re going to work hard, this year, harder than we’ve worked before. I expect nothing less than a full 110 percent effort, every day, from the team. We need to put in the work, every day at practice, to get ready for each game, every week, whichever opponent it may be.”

With the plethora of running backs, Sopko said that he may use certain personnel groups in different packages, because of their unique skill sets. Paving the way for Griffs’ running attack will be Brandon Ball, Bryce Stedman, Pat Hannon, Josh Ball, Matt Adams and JP Oatman. The six linemen will continue to compete for five spots. Stedman and Brandon Ball return from last year. Josh Ball and Hannon are both sophomores, that have been practicing with the varsity.

Springville has stability at split-end, with seniors Justin DeWitt and Andy Suffoletto. Devin Pazzuti is a newcomer from JV, that will get some snaps. Senior Wyatt Langendorfer, a second team division all-star in soccer last year, is transitioning to football, as a senior, and will play end.

The Griff’s 4-2-5 defense will return seven starters. Berry and Suffoletto return at cornerback and Wolcott returns at safety in the defensive backfield. Benz, Cieslica, Conklin and newcomer from the JV, Pat O’Brien, will be linebackers. Fisher and Benson Ball will be book-ends, with the interior linemen spots still up for grabs, according to Rob Valenti, the team’s defensive coordinator. Players such as Jack Lechevet, Josh Ball, Noah Snyder and Pat Hannon are a few working out in those spots. Valenti said he is excited about what he calls a fast, aggressive defense.

“Speed is the name of the game,” Valenti said. “What we do defensively is because of the speed we have. These guys have been in the program for four years; they know this defensive scheme. We can kind of look toward the back of the playbook, this year, because we avoid that learning curve.

“We have a lot of 200-pound kids that can play with speed and that’s a dangerous combination. We have a lot of guys who play end but could also play backer; a backer that can also play safety.”

Springville opens up with Eden on Sept. 7.


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