WNY Athletics

No Shortage of Speed at Cleve-Hill

The Cleveland Hill Golden Eagles football team were part of history last season.

Unfortunately, they ended up on the wrong side of it.

The Golden Eagles and eventual Class C State champion Skaneateles combined for a NYSPHSAA playoff record 119 points in last year’s Class C West State semifinal game but came up a touchdown short of reaching the championship game.

“We had a couple of errors at the end of the (semifinal) game,” senior Aaron Whaler said. “Every time I think about it I wish I could take them back but they just outplayed us at the end.”

Despite the sour ending, it was a typical Cleve-Hill strong year in 2017 as they went 10-2 (4-0, Class C North) and won their second straight sectional title.

“It was a great experience for the guys who are back this year,” Cleveland Hill coach Glenn Graham said. “They’re hungry to make a run this year and it’s motivated them to work really hard this offseason.”

A few members of the Golden Eagles did get to taste state-wide victory last year.

Whaler and classmates Javon Thomas and D’Mario Grant along with junior Chris Diem won the Division II NYSPHSAA 4x100m relay title back in the spring.

The best part; all four will be in the Cleve-Hill backfield in 2018.

“This might be the fastest team we’ve had and we’ve had some fast teams,” said Graham, who also serves as the Boys’ Outdoor track coach.

Whaler returns as the lead back from 2017. The senior ran for 1,670 yards and 24 touchdowns and had 60 tackles last season, good enough to be named a Connolly Cup finalist. Whaler will also take snaps as the quarterback in the Eagles’ ‘wildcat’ formation.

“What makes him special is that he’s smart,” Graham said of Whaler. “He’s smart about the game, how he takes care of his body. He’s worked himself to be in better shape than he was last year.”

Thomas, who transferred from Bishop Timon last offseason, ran for 1,280 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.

The tailback quickly had a strong liking for Graham and followed him to the track in the spring.

“He’s great,” Thomas said of Graham. “He motivates and shows us that hard work pays off.”

Diem, who had 64 tackles in 2017, will now step in at fullback for the now-graduated Ryan Majerowski, who led the team with 92 tackles on defense and added nearly 700 rushing yards and six touchdowns last year.

Cleveland Hill also graduates QB Brett Kochanski, OL/LB James Purpura and Trench Trophy finalists Manny Al-Hemyari and Sam Arrington.

Kahlil Jackson is expected to take over for Kochanski at quarterback.

“I think we ask for different things than other teams do at the quarterback position,” Graham said. “It needs to be someone who commands the respect of the other guys out there.”

Cleveland Hill will count on a trio of seniors to step up on the line in Curtis Krajewski, Taylor Durkin and 6′ 0″ 315-pound Dar Cunningham.

Besides the return of a great cast from 2017, the Golden Eagles are also excited about the new turf field that is being installed this fall. They hope to be able to play on it around playoff time.

“We’re excited,” Graham said. “It’s not just about playing games on it, but we don’t have to worry about muddy fields sending us to the tennis courts for practice.”

With all the success Cleveland Hill has enjoyed over the years, it would be easy for the Golden Eagles to rest on their laurels, but the key to continued success is to work for it every year.

“Greatness isn’t passed on. It’s earned,” Whaler said. “We’ve had some great teams in the past but we need to get the new guys to buy into the program. They have to know that we had to work for everything we earned last year and we need to work harder in order to do better.”

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