Joe Licata is a life-long Buffalonian who after setting records at Williamsville South chose to stay home to play at the University at Buffalo.
But it’s the time he spent in New Jersey and Ohio that really opened his eyes about how WNY high School football compares to the rest of the country. That combined with his love of football, Buffalo and helping people, Licata decided to start a company that would help train local high school football players.
“Football is really a priority (in New Jersey and Ohio) and it’s not here,” Licata said. “I want to redefine the negative stigma surrounding Western New York high school football.”
According to Licata the camp is a chance for kids to improve on their skills throughout the offseason and hopefully redefine Friday Nights Lights in WNY.
After a short stint with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2016, Licata came back to Buffalo and began to coach at local camps and help out at his alma mater, but he soon realized that he could do so much more.
“It started with six kids at Clarence High School wanting to do something and then it kind of blew up,” Licata said. “More kids wanted to be involved and that’s where we’re at right now.”
During the three-week offensive skills spring session that just ended last week, a total of 21 kids, one from as far away as Allegany came to Sportsplex in North Tonawanda to take part.
Grand Island sophomore quarterback Cam Sionko took part in the spring session. Not only has the quarterback been learning new skills, but he also is learning the intangibles of the position.
“I have learned everything from how to throw, to footwork, to read-option and how to be a leader,” Sionko said.
The company doesn’t just serve quarterbacks either. Licata has training for wide receivers and lineman too.
Coaching the wide receivers are Naaman Roosevelt and Matt Weiser.
Roosevelt is a product of St. Joe’s, where he earned a scholarship to play at UB. Roosevelt graduated as the school’s leader in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. The wide-out went on to play with the Bills for three years and is currently playing in the CFL.
Weiser is also a UB alumnus. The Pennsylvania native was a starting tight end/wide receiver for three years for the Bulls. Weiser caught passes from Licata, breaking the single season records for receptions and receiving yards. He was signed by the San Diego Chargers last May and played in their preseason games.
Will-South alum TJ Scamurra coaches the offensive lineman. Scamurra was a Trench Trophy finalist in 2011. He went on to play at Division III Hobart.
Sionko’s teammate, freshman lineman Donovan Cornelius has taken a lot from the sessions.
“This camp has taught me a lot about technique, especially footwork and hand placement,” Cornelius said.
Licata believes that football players in the WNY area are at a disadvantage since they only play seven regular season games a year while kids from other states play 10-12 games a year.
“You take a kid who’s a two-year starter in New York and he plays just 14 games but a two-year starter in Ohio plays 20 games,” Licata said. “That’s leaves at a lot room for improvement for kids from New York.”
According to Licata his company provides the opportunity for WNY kids to improve.
The former quarterback says his camp instills in its participants good skills and habits that will help them on the football field.
“A lot of the camps out there are doing it to make a little money. They’re not really teaching anything and you’re not retaining anything because it’s not over a long period of time,” Licata says. “I’m trying to do 10-week or 6-week programs so you see improvement over time.”
Since starting up this past January, Licata has coached some of the top QBs in WNY High School football including Sionko, Aaron Chase of Starpoint, Jack Putney of Clarence, Tony Maple of Burgard, Matt Myers of Timon, Ryan Mansell of Lancaster, Josh Foster of Will South, Joe Torrillo of Sweet Home, Javon Ford of St. Joe’s and Connor Desiderio of Maryvale.
When kids are with their high school teams so much of the time is spent working on running the plays and getting the timing down with your receivers. Licata and his staff helps these players take a step back and focus on the skills themselves.
“When you’re with your team your focused on the X’s and O’s,” Licata said. “Here, I’m focused on the why.”
The fall will be the real test for Licata. It will be the first time his students take the field after the lessons learned at his camp. The former quarterback is confident that all the work the kids have done over the offseason will pay off for them.
“I have a lot of confidence in myself as a coach. I’ve gotten some great feedback from the kids, texting me saying ‘this is the best I’ve ever thrown the ball’”, Licata said. “That’s great to hear because I know first-hand this stuff works. I was never the most gifted quarterback, so I always had to focus on the little things. That’s what I’m trying to get across to these kids.”
The 24 year-old has fallen in love with the work he is doing right now and could honestly see himself training local football players for a long time. One day, he wants to have every position covered. No matter what he will make sure that each player gets the attention they deserve.
“I’m going to try to continue and eventually expand to all positions at a rate that makes sense,” Licata said. “I’ll never surpass a one coach to eight players ratio. I want to make sure every kid gets a lot out of it.”