The chilly autumn breezes that typically accompany high school football in Western New York have been swapped out for spring’s blooming flowers, as the COVID-19 postponed season is underway.
Despite the shortened season, all six teams within the Monsignor Martin Athletic Association will have the chance to prove themselves on the gridiron in both Class A and Class B. With some teams already having kicked off their season, here’s what to look out for in Monsignor Martin in 2021:
The 2019 Catholic state champion Canisius football team was certainly talented, finishing 7-5 overall and 2-2 in the league. With the Crusaders returning close to the entire starting roster on both sides of the ball from that same team for 2021, it is safe to say this version might be even more talented.
Listing what notable players Canisius returns is difficult considering the multitude of ones they do. Quarterback Tyler Baker is back at the helm of the Crusader offense with his top target, receiver Nik McMillan. Top running back Joseph Dixon also returns, as does talented defensive lineman Malachi Charleston.
Head coach Rich Robbins loses most notably 2019 title game hero CJ Ozolins, along with linebackers Eli Haqq and Nigel Dabney and WR/FS Riley Simpson.
The all-around depth of this team will most definitely be its biggest strength as they try to defend their MMAA Class A title, and the impressive performance against rival St. Joe’s in a 63-0 win on March 27 was the perfect way to start their year. They are next on the road to face St. Francis on April 6, and follow that up with a potential game of the year in New York State against fellow powerhouse Iona Prep on April 10 in New Rochelle, N.Y.
St. Francis Red Raiders
Coming off a strong 8-2 campaign in 2019, the Red Raiders will look to continue that strong momentum into this season.
To do so, the Red Raiders will have to do it without 2019 Connolly Cup winning quarterback Jake Ritts, who helped lead a strong St. Francis attack last season. The team also lost leading rusher Xzavier Janczylik from the 2019 team.
This season, head coach Jerry Smith, who enters his 34th year at the helm, will look to names like TE/LB Antonio Corsi, a Maine commit, RB/DE Kimal Clark, and most notably, RB/DE Jimmy Scott III to be large contributors for his side. Scott has offers from multiple Division I schools as a junior.
Quarterback Steve Otremba Jr. will likely take the reigns of the Red Raider offense.
Smith is confident that his defense and skill positions will have strong seasons and should play key roles in the team’s success, while the offensive line and kicking game are spots he hopes will improve.
The Red Raiders open their season against Canisius at home on April 6, with kickoff set for 7 p.m.
St. Joe’s Marauders
It’s a fresh start for the Marauder football program, as new head coach Mike Corona enters his first season at the helm. While Corona was hired over a year ago, the postponed football season meant his first official game was delayed until now.
After finishing 6-4 in 2019, Joe’s lost some big names in WR/LB Sam Kline, offensive weapon Micah Brown, and WR Vinny Lomeo.
Looking to fill some of those holes will be RB Naseem Ziegler and WR Jack Carey (John Carroll commit), while the trenches will be notably held down by linemen Aiden Wright, Nick Valentino and Paul Swienicki III. Quarterback Aaron Jentz will lead the Marauder offense.
Corona is hoping this different spring season can help bring some consistency and a positive culture to the program, while also getting players valuable experience.
After being shutout at the hands of rival Canisius on March 27, the Marauders will look to rebound on April 3 as they take on Bishop Timon.
Bishop Timon Tigers
The Tigers are coming off a 3-6 season and Class B championship in 2019 and have their eyes set on going back-to-back.
In order to do so, they will have to overcome major losses in the trenches from that title winning team, as Timon lost their entire starting line to graduation. The rebuilding of that line starts with junior Aidan Mighells, who head coach Joe Licata hopes will be an anchor.
Licata will also be looking to RB/LB Makari Inabinett to produce on the ground, while through the air, the connection between quarterback Jaden Jennings and receiver Jeff Pilarski will likely be what the Tigers lean on.
Timon has already played two games, both against Class B foes, and sit at 1-1, defeating Cardinal O’Hara and falling to St. Mary’s Lancaster. The Tigers are back in action on April 3, as they face St. Joe’s.
Cardinal O’Hara Hawks
Fifth-year head coach Shaquille Dudley knows that his Hawks can only go up following a winless 0-9 season in 2019, and the hope is that this shortened season helps instill all-around improvement within the program.
The Hawks lost key contributors to graduation in LB Austin Murphy as well as linemen Nigel Williams and Zach McLear, but do return talent at skill positions in running backs Damien Littleton Jr. and Matt Samuel, as well as wide receiver Steven Barbera. Quarterback Aidan Masters will be protected most notably by linemen David Motten and Sam Torrie, the latter being a Brockport commit.
After suffering a 34-7 season opening loss to Timon on April 1, the Hawks will return to action on April 10 when they face St. Mary’s Lancaster.
St. Mary’s Lancaster Lancers
The St. Mary’s Lancers (2-8 in 2019) have one thing on their mind entering this season: competing for a Class B title, and head coach Matt Ard has the talent to do so in his second season with the Lancers.
After losing the likes of LB Janair Henderson and DE Chris Kobis to graduation, St. Mary’s brings back most notably talented RB Ja’qwan Manuel, who will likely have a large workload out of the backfield alongside Christian Lewis. Versatile quarterback Jayden Wilson also brings skill to the Lancer offense, and receiver Fred Johnson will be one of his main targets. Lineman Will Rhodes will look to hold down the trenches.
Ard believes consistency and limiting turnovers will be crucial this year, and after an impressive 32-7 season-opening victory over Timon, his side appears to be in the driver seat for a Class B title early in the year. The Lancers take on Portville on April 3 next in a non-league matchup.
Feature Image (Gavin Susfolk)/WNYAthletics.com File Photo