The best part of high school sports is that with every new season each team starts off with a clean slate.
Some teams that are historically considered prime contenders have down years or fall just short of expectations. That was the case with the Orchard Park football team in 2017.
The Quakers began last season with many fresh faces, each ready to leave their mark in the program’s rich history.
Orchard Park finished with a 4-3 overall record heading into the playoffs before dropping their final two games. The result, a 4-5 record.
One thing the Quakers can look back on, however, is the resolve they showed after those losses. Following the Williamsville North defeat in week four, the Quakers ran off three wins in a row, all on the road.
Unfortunately, as is the case with most young teams, consistency was tough to maintain.
Following the 2017 season, Orchard Park said goodbye to a number of standout players such as Nic Bruce, Dylan and Noah Bieler, Brian Strybel and Ryne Dietz.
But perhaps OP’s biggest loss was the retirement of Gene Tundo.
For 24 seasons Tundo was the face of the Quakers football program guiding OP to two New York State Public High School Athletic Association championships and 12 sectional titles as the head football coach.
Craig Dana was hired this past March to fill the head coaching position. No stranger to WNY football, Dana was a stand-out player in his own right, earning Hall of Fame honors at both Kenmore West and Buffalo State College.
Teaching and mentoring young student-athletes is nothing new to Dana who is also a teacher inside the district. Having to fill Tundo’s shoes is a challenge Dana accepted with confidence. He’s been coaching in OP for seventeen years, the last six under Tundo.
“I’ve learned a lot from Gene,” Dana said. “He’s responsible for all of the success this program has had through the years. I’m not about to go change everything that has been working for so long.”
This year OP will have a freshman team once again to help feed the varsity along with an already stellar modified and JV program. Last season the JV team finished with just one loss.
“Although we lost some key contributors I’m excited about the guys coming up,” Dana remarked.
They’ll have returning junior gunslinger Jack Sharp, a preseason Connolly Cup hopeful leading the charge.
“Last season is still fresh in my memory,” Sharp said. “I was embarrassed with the way things ended and took it personally.”
Along with Sharp, Mike Pataky a 6′ 0″ wide receiver and outside linebacker should make a big impact.
Furthermore, the Quakers will be looking for contributions from Jordan Prince, who is coming out his senior season to add depth to the receiving corps. Prince just completed a highly successful baseball season with the varsity team and has been working with Sharp through the off-season in various 7-on-7 leagues and scrimmages.
Blake Harlak a free safety did not play football last year either and, along with Prince will be counted on.
Dana is very excited about Brad Fowler, who is up from JV.
“We have high hopes for Brad,” Dana said. “He’s a big target, plays tight end and defensive end. We lost our starting center but everyone else returns (on the line). I see the guys up front as the strength of our team.”
Orchard Park’s lineman returning are Alex Westcott (6’3, 305 pounds), Kobe York (6′, 220 pounds) and Christian Gillette (6’4, 315 pounds).
“We all realize what we need to work on to get better and everyone has been putting in the effort so we can be successful,” Sharp said.
Lancaster has been the kings of Class AA the past two seasons with Williamsville North right behind them. How far away is OP from competing with the Legends and Spartans?
“I don’t think of it like that,” Dana said. “Obviously Lancaster has been amazing the past two seasons but we were up by two scores on North and lost on a late field goal. I think the gap is a lot closer than people think.”
One of the reasons Dana believes OP has been competitive over the years is because their football players are active in multiple sports. This years squad includes athletes that play varsity basketball, baseball, hockey, wrestling and rugby.
“Our goals are always the same, win the section and play for a state title,” Dana said. “Those are the expectations every year.”
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