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  • Colton Pankiewicz

2023 Class A1 Football Preview

Photo by Shawn Turri

Clarence Red Devils

Clarence’s 2022 season was an interesting one, finishing 6-4 with eight games being decided by three or more scores. A streaky team led by head coach Paul Burgio saw five consecutive wins after their loss in the season opener followed by a season-ending stretch in which his team lost three of four, including a loss in the Class A semifinals to Williamsville North. The Red Devils return to 2023 without their passing leader, receiving leader, and rushing leader from 2022 and will head into their season with junior captain Bryce Tubin under center. Tubin was described by his head coach as a “complete QB” who has “all the tools” needed to have a big year. The Red Devils will be led defensively by senior captain Hayden Arrison who finished last year's campaign with 59 total tackles, his 36 solo tackles were a team-high. Clarence kicks off action at Frontier on September 2nd.

Lockport Lions

Lockport’s 2022 campaign went so-so, ending their season with a record of 4-5 after winning their last two non-conference games against Starpoint and Hutch-Tech. They enter 2023 with returning superstar wideout, Shey Williams, who finished his junior year with 716 yards and 14 touchdowns in just nine games. The Lions had a handful of players suit up at quarterback last year but for 2023, Lockport will stand behind sophomore signal-caller Graham Schultz heading into their season opener as the Lions host Bennett on September 2nd.

Niagara Wheatfield Falcons

Niagara Wheatfield went 3-7 in Erik O’Bryan’s first year as the head coach. They ended the year on a high note winning back-to-back games against Sweet Home and Grand Island. While losing quarterback Alex Fletcher, who threw for 1,826 yards as well as 22 TD’s in 2022, Niagara Wheatfield retains senior wideout Shawn Watson who caught a team-high 35 balls for 648 yards and 8 TD’s, and senior running back Te’Shaun Matthews who averaged six yards per carry and totaled 623 yards on the ground along with six touchdowns. The squad's starting quarterback is thought to be sophomore Chase Richards going into the season but Matthews is also learning the position as the team prepares for their season opener at Kenmore West on September 2nd.

Williamsville North Spartans

After improving from a record of 4-5 in 2021 to 7-4 and 2022, Williamsville North welcomes Orchard Park to town under the lights on September 1st in what could serve as a revenge game for the Spartans after Orchard Park handed them a 27-13 loss last year. The team graduated their biggest playmakers in Kendal Donovan, who tallied 1206 yards on the ground to go along with 14 touchdowns, and quarterback Mitch Kelly who contributed almost 1600 yards combined. The Spartans do however have DJ Leonard returning who led the team in receiving and finished third in rushing, along with Rocco Urbanaczyk to carry the load defensively after leading the team in tackles just a year ago.

Kenmore West Blue Devils

After losing two of the first three games in 2022, Kenmore West finished out their regular season undefeated before losing to Jamestown in the Class A semifinals, ending the year with a respectable 7-3 record. They kick off 2023 at home against Niagara-Wheatfield on September 2nd, with an opportunity to win their first season opener under head coach John Haynes since 2020. The Blue Devils will need a playmaker to go along with senior quarterback Danny Klein as he loses his Swiss Army Knife of a teammate in Jermaine Atkins. Atkins led the team in both rushing and receiving yards last year. Defensively the team retained two of their top four players in Hezekiah Mercado, as he tallied 8.5 sacks and Nolan Nobile who finished with 37 tackles and two fumble recoveries in 2022.

West Seneca West Warhawks

West Seneca West is one of two schools to join Class A1 in 2023 after finishing 6-3 and 4-2 against A2 opponents in 2022. Under head coach Mike Vastola, the Warhawks snuck into the Class A quarterfinals where their season would end in a 33-15 loss to Jamestown. As a sophomore, quarterback Cayden Stupak threw for over 1,100 yards showing promise heading into his junior year. West Seneca West also retained their leading rusher and receiving threat in Bernard Freeman and Ray Kwasniewski which is a formula for success as the Warhawks open the season at SUNY Brockport on September 2nd as they take on Section III power Cicero North Syracuse.

McKinley Macks

2023 is also the inaugural season for McKinley’s entrance to the A-1 after the program finished first in Class A-2 with their season ending in the quarterfinals to Kenmore West. The Macks enter the 2023 season with running back Tyrone Hughes who was unstoppable a year ago rushing for 1,325 yards and 14 touchdowns as a sophomore. The team also has senior quarterback Brandon Liggans returning under center after throwing for 715 yards and adding another 326 yards on the ground. Head coach Brian Davis will lead his team into their A1 debut against Hamburg on September 1st.

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