WNY Athletics

Labonte Seizes Opportunity

Opportunity. We all want it. We all want that chance to prove our worth on the playing field. To do more. To play a bigger role. Those chances don’t come very often. When they do, far too many people don’t realize what’s in front of them in time to seize the chance.

Chris Labonte saw it and has seized it in a big way.

Labonte, a senior in his third season with the North Tonawanda Lumberjacks football team, made his mark in a big way in Week Three, when he scored four touchdowns and amassed 213 yards on the ground in the Lumberjacks’ 46-14 win over Sweet Home in their Section VI Class A North meeting.

While that performance certainly made people stand up and take notice of Labonte, NT second-year head coach, Henry Fumerelle, was not shocked in the least. From Day One of training camp, Fumerelle said that Labonte was on the verge of exploding. Fumerelle’s powers of prognostication proved to be true.

“He’s been terrific. He actually gave up swimming for football. He’s been in the weight room since November,” said Fumerelle. “He is probably one of our strongest guys pound-for-pound. Very strong, athletic… He can fly and he can do it all. Run, catch and block.”

Last season Labonte was somewhat in the shadow of then senior Cody Sikora, who formed a deadly 1-2 backfield punch with Joe Dotterwiech.

Fumerelle feels that being in Sikora’s shadow a bit was enough to fuel Labonte’s competitive juices and bring the best out in him.

But the genesis of Labonte’s leap to the starting line-up trails back to Chris realizing from within that he had to work harder. That he had to prove to Fumerelle that he could be trusted.

“Last year we got the new coaches in,” Labonte said, as he explained his place on the team during the transition from former head coach Tony Truilizio to Fumerelle.

“So when I got pulled up in 10th grade, I hate to say it, but in practice I kind of slacked off. I (didn’t) try my absolute hardest, which I should have. So then last year when coach Fumerelle came in he didn’t really know what I had to offer until the end of that season. So this season, these past couple games, have been really good because I can show coach what I’m doing. He’s not starting me on defense, but on offense I give it everything I’ve got. I help the team put some points up on the board. It just feels really good.”

Labonte showed signs of his potential in a crucial Week Five win over Niagara-Wheatfield last season when he helped the Jacks drive the ball into the Falcons red zone and eventually scored the touchdown that pulled the Jacks within one, 14-13. Dotterwiech would seal the 15-14 win on a two-point conversion.

“During the Wheatfield game, I actually told Zack Woodard ‘you’ve got to tell coach to put me in the game,'” Labonte recalled.

“Because coach was kind of stuck on what to do because it was kind of a stand still game. So that when he put me in and I kept going hard and we kept driving the ball I realized that right after that game in practice I had to start trying as hard as I could in practice. After that he kept putting me in games and I kept trying my absolute hardest, and then he ended up starting me.”

What has impressed Fumerelle the most isn’t so much the results that Labonte has gotten, but rather the work that he has put in to achieve those results.

“He understood what it takes to be a great football player,” said Fumerelle. “He actually worked himself into a starting role right after the Niagara-Wheatfield game last year. He had a great breakout game against Tonawanda last year. He’s a great back and a great young man. He’s got a 98 (academic) average, too. He thoroughly understands what it takes to play in our program and what dedication we’re looking for.”

Along with amazing break away speed, Labonte has also proven that he has the toughness to bang the ball inside when called upon and has the football smarts and athletic ability to run the option when the Jacks go that route.

Though Labonte would have obviously loved to have played more last season, as he reflects, Labonte said the value of watching Sikora and Dotterwiech enabled him to see the best parts of their styles and allowed Labonte to incorporate those traits into his own game.

“Watching Cody run, we have kind of the same speed, but he would always get those long runs where mine weren’t as long,” he said. “So watching Cody play I realized that when you’re running the ball you can take your time for a second and look around to see where the defenders are so you can make a cut back to get that long break out run. Which I’ve had a couple of them already this season. Then watching Joe. When he gets hit he doesn’t stop. He just keeps moving his legs on contact so I realized I’ve got to do that, too.”

Regardless of what happens the rest of the season Chris Labonte said learning how to work hard and make the most of this opportunity on the gridiron will help him recognize, and make the most out of, opportunities that will come his way in his adult life.

“Being a starter I’ve been learning a lot about leadership,” Labonte stated. “Like after I score a touchdown or I get a good run and I go down to the sidelines I hear people telling me good job. They’re praising me for doing that good run, or whatever. So I realized that I’ve got to keep my hard work up so that they can keep looking up to me and I can help them, too.”

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