Urban Meyer, Head Coach for Ohio State football, coaches by the motto of ‘+2’. Mike Fatta, Head Coach of the Cheektowaga Warriors football team, says that he adopted that phrase from Coach Meyer. “It’s a mindset that everything we do, we do for two more. Run two more yards, do two more reps. Everything that’s asked of you, do it for two more.” If the Cheektowaga Warriors had won two more games last year, they would have been state champions.
With a regular season record of 7-0, the Warriors clinched the Class B West Division title for a fifth consecutive year. Cheektowaga made a tremendous run in the playoffs, claiming their second Class B Sectional title and Far West Regional title in two years. The Warriors’ 2015 postseason came to an abrupt end at the hands of the eventual state champions, the Cazenovia Lakers.
Losses to graduation may hurt the team, as players not returning include All Star Justin Williams, Dylan Romanczak, Tyron Lawson, and Connolly Cup Finalist Tyree Billingslea. The Warriors, though, will not suffer too badly from these losses, as a group of core players will be returning to the lineup this season. These key players include QB Eric Bartnik, WR Stephan Parker, LB Trevor Darlak, FS Ja’Vaughn Williams, LB Ryan Carpenter, and G Tariq Whitaker.
With the loss of their star running back in Billingslea, the Warriors had a void to fill, and luckily enough, Senior Seven Turpin transferred from Williamsville North to Cheektowaga last spring. “I’m not the fastest or the strongest, but I use my brain. I see the whole field and always try to make a play, make it happen,” Turpin said, when explaining what kind of running back he is. Coach Fatta says Turpin will fit in quite well with the Warriors offense, “Seven is more of a shifty and elusive back, which fits even better with what we do.”
The Cheektowaga football program is not top heavy with only the Varsity squad doing well. In fact, the JV team set a Western New York Record amongst JV teams, outscoring opponents 376-12, allowing only two touchdowns in their 8-0 season. Players to keep an eye on coming up from that powerhouse defense and team are Adam Bellaus, Jaquan Bush, John Sweat, and Tommy Zolnowski.
Senior quarterback and scholar athlete Eric Bartnik steps into a bigger role this season. He led the Warriors’ offense and the team to the state semi-final game last season through adversity. What is he doing with that experience? Helping the younger players. “Last year I was more lead by example, this year I’m trying to be more vocal, and take on that leadership role.” “It’s a completely different game; Varsity’s a lot faster and kids are a lot bigger. It doesn’t matter what you did last year, it matters what you do this year,” is what he’s telling those juniors coming up onto Varsity this year.
Overall, the team is hungry for more this season. When asked what the team goal is for the 2016 campaign, there were mixed answers. “Not come up short; Win states,” said Senior WR Stephan Parker. Bartnik says he will only be happy if the team “wins a state championship at the dome.” Seven Turpin sticks by his motto of ‘one game at a time,’ saying that you can’t focus on anything except the game at hand. There is one this that Coach Fatta says is the overall goal of the team. “Our team goal is the same every year: Win the division. Winning the state is a lifetime dream goal, and we have the players capable of that, but to set us up for a good run in the playoffs, we have to win our division.”
Even if this Warriors team, with all-star talent on both sides of the ball, comes up short of a division, sectional, regional, or state title, Coach Fatta says that having character is the most important lesson to be learned from the Cheektowaga locker room. “Character is where it’s gotta be. Making sure everyone is committed to each other is what can get these guys to the next level on the field.” That message has definitely hit home, as Parker comments on what it takes to win, “I believe it’s got to do with character and who you are as a player and a person.”
The Cheektowaga faithful has high hopes for this team, as it is shaping up to be an extremely exciting season of Warrior football at 3600 Union Road. The season kicks off September 2nd at home against Dunkirk.