CATTARAUGUS — The list of returning Cattaraugus-Little Valley football players with varsity experience suggests coach Tim Miller’s team has a head start on its lines, but less so among the “skill” positions.
Among 10 returning letter-winners (seven of them starters), nine played line and/or linebacker for the Timberwolves last year.
Going 1-7 last fall, the Timberwolves didn’t keep up with most opponents, but had a better offense than in recent years, scoring 20 or more points three times and 10 or more in seven of eight games. The season-high came in a 40-12 non-league victory over Cardinal O’Hara. CLV lost a high-scoring thriller with Gowanda/Pine Valley, 48-32.
“Last year was fun for us,” Miller, the program's longtime coach, said. “We had a really large group of experienced skill players and were able to mix things up quite a bit. We threw the ball more last year than we have in years past and the kids liked doing that. We probably had more success beginning to end last year as a throwing football team than as a running team. But that was the personality and the nature of the group that we had.
"This year will not be like that. Because they were such a large group of experienced skill players, we are now in a big experience hole in those skill positions. (But) our line is really solid this year.”
Instead, Miller must build this year’s team from the inside out, leaning on those returning linemen to give time to some fresh faces in the backfield or lined up out wide.
“We had an inexperienced group of linemen last year who gained experience, and then we lost all that experience in the skill area, so we're going to be young and learning this year,” Miller said.
So it’s safe to expect the Timberwolves won’t set many program passing records this year.
“My vision would be to start us off as a well-grounded running team,” Miller said. “We're strong up front, the kids know what they're doing. It'll be that work to get the guys to hit the hole, hit the hole hard, hit the hole low with vision in the running game, and then expand from there into passing. But I would see us as more of a ground type of team.”
Despite that inexperience in key areas, Miller considers CLV’s overall numbers “real healthy,” with around 26 varsity players and 32 modified (grades seven through nine).
“The key for us is going to be to make sure that we keep everybody interested and keep those numbers going for down the road,” he said. “To do that means making sure we have a plan to get the kids involved on game day.”
Miller said the T-Wolves coaching staff — which includes varsity assistants Matt Minnekine (defensive coordinator) and Bryan Gunsoles and modified coaches John Janora and Josh Forster — altered its method of teaching football concepts into more bite-sized segments, rather than one large block of learning.
“We typically break down our practice into a kind of 45-minute to an hour block where there's a learning session and then some type of conditioning or drill work to keep the conditioning phase going,” Miller said. “But this year we've kind of shortened up those blocks so that we're not overloading the kids in 30 minutes worth of chalk talk and skill sessions, breaking that into maybe 15, 20-minute bunches but there's more of them. So it gives us a chance to repeat what we just heard, to add in a few things, and then we keep coming back to it.
“You might hit four or five of those in a practice. It's really more short bursts of focused learning for these younger, more inexperienced kids.”
CLV saw a consistent core of “a dozen to 20” players show up each morning for open weight room sessions.
“Of course you have lulls, kids go on vacation and the fair ... we have kids who show animals at the (county) fair, so they might disappear for a few days, but they all ended up coming back,” Miller said. “It was decent and it was really good among the younger kids. I wish that we could have seen some of our older kids in there, but most of the older kids are working jobs and it's hard to get them together.”
Seniors Dominic Martinez and Devin Henderson were both honorable mentions for the Section 6 Class D all-star team a year ago. Now those two, along with Zayn Pacyliak, are among the leaders for this group. Senior wide receiver Donnie Seamon is the team’s lone returning starter among the skill spots.
Miller said the team’s leadership primarily comes from those linemen at the moment out of necessity.
“It really is those bigger guys at the moment, more because they've been around the program longer and they're on the same page with us in terms of what we like to do and how we want to present ourselves,” he said. “But those younger guys need to learn that role because they're next. It's got to be the next man up kind of situation. Some of those younger kids are responding well to that.”
At a time when many small schools have either merged football programs with neighboring districts or dropped to the eight-man level, CLV takes pride in keeping its numbers strong enough to support its own 11-man team. Miller said the recent addition of a modified team (and subsequent move away from junior varsity) helped in that regard.
“Kids that age all want to at least try it,” Miller said. “This is our third year of that situation, so now we're starting to feel the benefit of having more kids interested at a younger age because in the past kids would go from midgets and peewees straight into JV and that was a big leap. Some of those kids would be intimidated by it so they might take that ninth or 10th grade year off and then you might get them back as a junior or senior but by then they're behind the curve in terms of understanding the game.”
"I think Western New York has the best Class D football, year in and year out,” Miller added. The T-Wolves play in a division dominated last year by Randolph, which brings back most of its team, and many consistently strong contenders such as Clymer/Sherman/Panama, Franklinville/Ellicottville and Portville.
“Obviously we don't win the state title every year but boy we sure are in the hunt every year. So it's a tough place to play D football and particularly now ... F/E, that's a combined school, CSP, that's a combined school. We face Gowanda, they're combined with Pine Valley. To be a single school that's facing some of these bigger programs, it puts us a little behind the 8-ball. But we've managed to hang in there and keep putting a team on the field and trying our best to compete.”
THE RETURNING starters:
Dominic Martinez, senior, 6-0, 170, guard/linebacker
Devin Henderson, senior, 5-10, 160, guard/linebacker
Raiden Terhune, senior, 6-2, 200, tackle
Zayn Pacyliak, senior, 5-10, 240, tackle/defensive line
Caleb Frentz, senior, 5-10, 200, center
Donnie Seamon, senior, 5-8, 140, wide receiver
Malaki Green, senior, 5-8, 260, defensive line
ALSO LETTERING were:
Danny Wright, senior, 5-8, 170, offensive line/linebacker
Michael Brewer, junior, 6-0, 170, offensive line/defensive end
Perry Snyder, senior, 5-11, 180, offensive line/defensive line
THE PLAYERS, by position:
Quarterbacks: Payton Bradley (fr., 6-2, 170), Cam Young (jr., 6-0, 165), Matt Benzel (jr., 6-0, 150)
Running Backs: Damian Miller (jr., 5-8, 150), Brayden Young (jr., 5-9, 155), Josiah Lenahan (soph., 6-0, 160), Jake Kahm (jr., 5-9, 160)
Ends/Receivers: Seamon, Benzel, Young, James Hines (soph., 5-5, 130), Hunter Church (jr., 6-0, 150), Gabe Lavelle (sr., 5-7, 150), Henderson, Rubin Bronsema (sr., 6-1, 160)
Guards/Tackles: Martinez, Henderson, Pacyliak, Terhune, Justin Sills (soph., 5-9, 185), Thomas Bonin (jr., 5-9, 170), Wright, Brewer, Green, Noah Fuller (soph., 5-10, 190)
Centers: Hunter McInerney (sr., 5-10, 185), Frentz, Walker Janora (jr., 5-8, 165), Chase Marshall (soph., 5-10, 200)
Kickers: Rubin Bronsema
Ends: Martinez, Terhune, Brewer, Lenahan
Guards/Tackles: Pacyliak, Green, Janora, Sills, Bonin, Snyder, Marshall, Fuller, Frentz
Linebackers: Henderson, McInerney, Lenahan, Young, Kahm
Defensive Backs: Seamon, Young, Bradley, Benzel, Lavelle, Miller, Hines, Church