Just when the Blue Devils thought they had the catchiest motto of the season “W.A.R.-Win At Ralph” the unexpected name change of Ralph Wilson Stadium to New Era Field took place.
Regardless of what the home of the Buffalo Bills is called, the Blue Devils mission is still the same-get to the sectional finals again, but this time, walk away as champions. Coming off of one of the most memorable seasons in Kenmore West football history, the Blue Devils (8-2) won the Section VI Class AA North title and, in the process captured the hearts and imaginations of everyone in Ken-Ton as they made their first trip to the sectional championships in 19 seasons.
But that dream season ended in heartbreak, as Orchard Park hung on to beat Ken-West 34-20 in the Section VI Class AA title game that was played at “The Ralph.”
Ready for 2016, the Blue Devils are focused to get back to the Stadium and get the job done. Addressing his boys’ in a team meeting before the first practice, new head coach Johnny Haynes said he could see in the eyes of his returning starters how badly they want it.
“I don’t think I have to instill anything in those guys,” Haynes said. “They got a taste of it and they know that, honestly, if they look back at (the title game) if a couple things don’t happen that could have been a whole different ball game for them. And they want to get back there and taste that.”
While the talent to see their lofty goals through is certainly there, 2016 is definitely a season of change for the Blue Devils as they graduated 20 seniors and bid farewell to Rich Harris, who after 15 years as head coach and 28 years in the program, stepped down for medical and personal reasons.
On the field the Blue Devils look to replace arguably its deepest and most talented line up ever as they lost key pieces like Terrell Ford, Jay Taylor, Charlie Milks, Mark Taylor and DeAngelo Walker.
Players who were not only incredibly gifted, but were also shining examples of character. What it meant to work hard, play for each other and be aware of what it meant to wear your schools colors.
But as the Blue Devils roll into the new season they return a wealth of talent that were big contributors to last seasons success.
Seniors Jamir Lynch, Jahlel St.John (receiver/linebacker), Tyler White (linebacker), Cory Ratka (linebacker/fullback) and Erriono Giardina (running back/corner back) will lead the way in 2016 for the Blue Devils.
“It’s an every day, every play type thing,” St.John said. “We have to remind each other we’ve got to stick together or we aren’t going anywhere.”
Saying that its impossible to totally replace the leaders who have graduated, this years seniors are focused on giving the 2016 team its own identity that will make its schools and community just as proud as they were of last year’s team.
“Off the field is just as important as on the field,” Lynch said. “You have to conduct yourself in a positive manner. Be respectful. Like Coach Haynes said the little things matter.”
Looking to repeat as AA North champions, realignment has added Williamsville North and Niagara Wheatfield to the division, along with Clarence, Niagara Falls and Lockport.
Lynch, who saw substantial time at QB while Walker was sidelined with injuries, on paper appears to be the front runner for the QB job. But Haynes said Andrew Fron and Faisal Ahmadii are also two capable young options at the position. And that if either of them can get into a consistent rhythm it will open the door for the athletic Lynch to be a multiple position force on offense, much like how Terrell Ford was utilized.
“It’s not really a competition between us,” Lynch said. “It just feels great having the opportunity to be an all-around player this year. Whatever coach Haynes needs me to do I can do.”
Joe Stewart will be at receiver and corner back. John Milks, who looked especially good in drills on opening day of camp, will play receiver and linebacker.
Erik Rainey, Cruise Hayes and Jacob Robb will also play bigger roles for the Blue Devils this season.
Ken-West opens at Riverside (7:30) on Sept.2.