It’s been eight years since Eric Jantzi left the football team at North Tonawanda High School.
This past winter, Jantzi was rehired by the school board to take over the Lumberjacks football program, which he guided to a 13-0 record and the New York State Class AA championship in 2009.
Since leaving in 2010 the Lumberjacks have had four different head coaches and declining numbers.
When Jantzi was hired he made sure to bring back his old coaching staff with him including Rick Tomm, who will be back as the defensive coordinator.
“Since that first team meeting I’ve had goosebumps,” Jantzi said. “I’m really excited to be back and coaching this team. To do it with all my buddies again that we had so much success with is the most exciting.”
Jantzi recognizes that there are many challenges ahead of him if North Tonawanda is to turn things around. The numbers have been declining.
“I think the most important thing will be success, we have to have a culture of winning,” Jantzi said.
This season the Lumberjacks will begin playing on a brand new turf field, part of a $9 million dollar all-purpose sports complex.
“The new field is generating some excitement and that hopefully will help with numbers,” Jantzi said.
The Lumberjacks have had good modified and junior varsity numbers but there was a drop off when it came to Varsity. Jantzi is hoping that a new culture will transfer the younger kids up to his program.
Dan Troy took over as head coach last summer after Henry Fumerelle suffered a serious injury. Troy had a trying season and the Jacks finished at 2-4 in Class A and 3-5 overall.
NT suffered three straight defeats to start the season in 2017. Grand Island and Starpoint each beat the Jacks by four touchdowns. NT finally broke into the win column against Kenmore West in week four.
Jordon Holmes, a Trench Trophy finalist, Rhett Stauffer, Charles Tripi and Nick Pendergrass have all graduated.
Matt Monge, Nick Casterline and Colin Beach return to provide some leadership during the transition.
“Everyone has a clean slate,” Jantzi said. “I have no problem with any of the guys coming back. There are no preconceived notions about who plays where. We have film so my staff has been going through it to know what kind of talent we have coming back. The issue with film though is we don’t know how the players were coached or what they were told to do.”
The new Jacks coaching staff started working with the team last February, working out four days a week.
This past summer they practiced each Wednesday up at Starpoint with the Spartans, along with Newfane and Lockport. At the end of June they held a mini-camp. In July, Jantzi had his players helping out with the local little league program.
“I want our players to be role models,” Jantzi said.
“Our attendance has been really good. We have a very athletic team but we’ve been undisciplined. Before when I was here coaching it got to the point where the kids policed themselves and that worked out well,” Jantzi said
Jantzi believes he has a pretty good team that should be tough to play against.
“With Rick’s defense, it’s going to be 11 guys going to the ball,” Jantzi said. “We’ll be a frustrating team to play against.”
Monge is slated to be the starting quarterback but Jantzi said “all positions are open and guys will have a chance to compete.”
The team’s new motto this season “Stronger Together”. That’s something they will need to do in 2018 in order to have any success in a very strong Class A field.
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