At last, year two is here for the Salamanca football team under coach Chad Bartoszek.
Just how far have the Warriors come under their mentor? What have they learned? The team waited 17 months between games, but will kick off the 2020-21 season on Thursday, April 1, and will finally have a chance to judge itself against another team.
Bartoszek emphasized three areas in which his team has developed since he first took on the job in 2019, coming over from Ellicottville to coach his alma mater: culture, on the field (“X’s and O’s”) and maturity.
“We set the standard last year and our kids are, we're holding them to a certain level of accountability, what we're expecting of them in terms of culture and how we operate,” he said. “Our scheme has stayed relatively the same and that's the goal of any program, to keep things aligned and make sure that each year your kids can build off of what they learned. That's the case this year. We're keeping things relatively similar, every system switches up a little bit each year, but the kids already know most of our stuff, which is a huge thing.
“No. 3 is just maturity, age, we've got 10th graders are now 11th graders and 11th graders are now 12th graders. That's the bottom line, they just develop and they're in a better position. So all across the board we've seen growth and it's a really difficult part of coaching to keep things in line, but it's also the most rewarding.”
With “healthy” numbers at the varsity, junior varsity and modified levels, the Warriors start the season with experience to lean on in key positions, including all five returning starting offensive lineman and senior quarterback Lucas McKenna.
“We did lose Jarrett McKenna, who was a big-time piece of our passing game and in our secondary,” Bartoszek said. “We have some new faces that are going to step in at our skill positions. But they're all returning type players, guys who got minutes last year, and that's similar defense. It's been easier to acclimate into the scheme of the Xs and Os of things because of our experience. So our expectations are pretty high this year.”
Salamanca knows it still has to prove itself to compete in a Section 6 Class D league that includes several perennial small-school powers. Franklinville/Ellicottville, Randolph and Cattaraugus-Little Valley remain in the league, while Portville and Silver Creek/Forestville both dropped down from Class C and Maple Grove returned to 11-man football after playing the eight-man game in 2019. Clymer/Sherman/Panama moved up to C. Each team has four league games scheduled and one spot for a non-league game, though some, including Salamanca in Week 3, still have unfilled weeks listed as a bye or “to be determined.”
“We are running the gauntlet, we've got a tough, tough group of four,” Bartoszek said. “Opening up with Maple Grove is a challenge, (they’re a) very prestigious program that is going to create some issues for us for sure. Our job is just to meet those standards though, meet the expectations. We're a team that's got to earn our success right now and we keep using that term: ‘earn it,’ ‘earn success,’ and we've got to keep striving to work our way into that conversation for championships in our class. We feel this year is one of those opportunities for sure.”
The season’s postponement into the spring — as part of the Fall II season, along with girls volleyball — gave Salamanca a chance to play on the new turf at Veterans Memorial Park, which also features an impressive new scoreboard and lights system.
After all this time off, Bartoszek wants to see how his team responds under the bright lights (they’re even brighter now). They’ll have energy, sure, but no team in this area has played a full game.
“It's been so long since they played a full game,” Bartoszek said. “I can almost guarantee we're going to come out fired up, I know that our kids are ready. We're going to look the part early, it's just can you sustain it? Can you maintain it throughout four quarters? I think that's probably what's on the mind of most coaches in Western New York right now. It's just getting through an entire game, keeping that energy level, trying to prep for some of the bumps and bruises and conditioning factors that are going to play in. We do have some depth but we are in a Class D level so we don't have a ton of depth everywhere. We've got to move some people around at times. But just seeing a full four quarters right now is what we're primed up for and it's not really something you can simulate.”
SALAMANCA FOOTBALL 2020-21 SCHEDULE
April 1 — Maple Grove, 7 p.m.
April 9 — Franklinville/Ellicottville, 7 p.m.
Week 3 — Bye/TBA
April 23 — at Portville, 7 p.m.
April 30 — Randolph, 7 p.m.
Weeks 6 & 7 — Section 6 playoffs/TBD