West Seneca West’s Matt Myers, who was named UB’s starting quarterback this season, was the obvious choice to win the 2017 Connolly Cup after leading his team to a state championship.
In 2018, the decision wasn’t so clear cut for the committee with a load of talented players to choose from.
In the end, the committee gave the 47th annual award to Pioneer’s Mike Rigerman, becoming the school’s first player to ever win it.
Rigerman came almost out of nowhere after switching from tight end to tailback last summer. He led WNY with 2,116 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns. The senior dominated on the other side of the ball as well with 101 tackles, leading his team to the Class B1 Division crown last season.
There was a plethora of worthy talent among the ten finalists at the banquet in 2018.
A couple of quarterbacks etched their names into not only in their school record books, but the WNY record book as well.
Aaron Chase now holds all of the Starpoint passing records and in his final game tied Williamsville South alumnus Joe Licata’s record for touchdowns in a season (36). A week later, Southwestern signal-caller Cole Snyder, who’s now playing for Rutgers, broke it.
Chase and Snyder were joined on stage by St. Francis QB Jake Ritts, who was the only underclassman at the banquet last year. Ritts also threw for 36 touchdowns. However, more impressive was that he broke the WNY single-season passing record with 3,366 yards, crushing the previous mark of 3,184 yards set by Jamestown grad Jake Sisson in 2013.
There was also West Seneca East’s Shaun Dolac, who carried the Trojans to the State Class A championship game, and repeat finalists Aaron Wahler of Cleveland Hill and KeShone Beal of Cheektowaga, whose teams won sectional titles.
With nine of the last season’s finalists being seniors, the race to make it to the December banquet and win the 48th Connolly Cup is wide open. Without further ado, my second annual Connolly Cup Preseason Contenders list.
The following is my (Francis Boeck) personal take on who are the top contenders for the 2019 Connolly Cup award. The players are listed in alphabetical order by last name. I’m not a Connolly Cup committee member and no committee members had any input into this piece. Any thought that this is/will serve as any kind of official watchlist for the committee would be misguided.
Joe Carlson – WR – Starpoint (Senior)
Before Aaron Chase arrived Starpoint was known for a run-heavy attack on offense that often featured multiple tailbacks. Chase turned the Spartans into an air-attack spread offense, rewriting the school record book. It appears Starpoint will remain in the same style of offense this year with a new quarterback.
Joe Carlson was the team’s second leading receiver last season with 59 catches for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns. The Spartans graduated nearly 1,900 receiving yards in 2018. Carlson is the feature receiver at Starpoint and should see a big increase in production.
If the Spartans can continue to dominate through the air with new QB Carson Marcus, Carlson will have some big numbers to show for it.
Connor Desiderio – QB – Maryvale (Senior)
There’s one area where Connor Desiderio will have an advantage in every game this season; experience.
The quarterback is entering his fourth season starting under center for the Flyers. Desiderio earned the job Day 1 as a freshman and never looked back as he’s lead Maryvale to the playoffs the last three seasons and appeared in the Section VI Class B final in 2017. Over that time, he earned a 19-7 record with 2,926 passing yards and 35 touchdowns.
More will be placed on the senior this year with 2017 Connolly Cup finalist Rashad Law and Jay Henley graduating last June. If Desiderio is able to overcome those losses and bring the Flyers into the post-season for a fourth consecutive season he’ll have a really strong case to be a finalist.
Mike Glinski – LB – West Seneca West (Senior)
It’s rare for a defender to become a finalist for the Connolly Cup but Mike Glinski has the best chance of any who fill that role in a long time.
As one of the last remnants of the Indians’ 2017 state championship team Glinski returns for his senior year as one of the best linebackers in WNY. He was one of the area’s leading tacklers in 2018 with 112 (12.4 T/G). Glinski also led West Seneca West with 154 tackles his sophomore year.
Sure, the award generally goes to quarterbacks and running backs, but if the Connolly Cup is supposed to go to the best high school football player in WNY period, then Glinski deserves to be in the discussion.
Jaden Heers – RB – Newfane (Senior)
Many probably missed it because the Panthers failed to make the Class B playoffs but running back Jaden Heers had the most rushing yards of any underclassman in WNY in 2018.
Last season, Heers ran for 1,238 yards and nine touchdowns as Newfane finished with a 5-4 record.
If Heers can build on that this season and lead the Panthers to the post-season he’ll get some much-deserved recognition.
Gerrit Hinsdale – QB – Clymer/Sherman/Panama (Senior)
There were a lot of reasons the CSP Wolfpack were so dominant en-route to winning the NYSPHSAA Class D title last season.
One of the biggest was Gerrit Hinsdale.
In his second year as the starter, Hinsdale was on fire throwing for over 2,000 yards and 23 TDs. Hinsdale does lose his entire offensive line and top two tailbacks to graduation but returns his top target in 6’4″ wideout Cam Barmore.
If Hinsdale can lead the Wolfpack back to the state tournament it will be really hard for the committee to not have Hinsdale as a finalist in 2019.
Jason Mansell – QB – Lancaster (Junior)
If there was any doubt before it’s clear now; Jason Mansell is not riding the coattails of his older brother Ryan, a 2017 Connolly Cup finalist.
The younger Mansell proved he belonged as the Legends’ signal caller last season throwing for over 1,400 yards and 16 touchdowns while leading them to their third-straight Section VI Class AA title. That was while splitting time with QB Gianluca Fulciniti, who ran Lancaster’s wildcat offense.
With much of their starting lineup back this season the Legends could make a deep run in the state playoffs. If that happens, the Mansell’s could join some elite company; families with multiple finalists.
Zach Norton – RB – Clarence (Junior)
On a team with big names such as Jack Putney and Jon Stevens, Zach Norton stood out as one of the top players not only at Clarence but in all of Class AA last year.
Norton jumped onto the scene in 2018 leading the Red Devils in rushing as a sophomore with 562 yards and five touchdowns. He was also second on the team in receiving with 14 catches for 146 yards and a score.
If he can build on that in 2019, Norton will certainly get some consideration as one of the best in the area.
D’Jae Perry – RB – Bennett (Senior)
The Bennett Tigers had one of the best backfields in all of WNY last season and leading the way was D’Jae Perry.
After transferring to the Buffalo Public Schools from St. Mary’s of Lancaster last summer, Perry ran for 1,009 yards (14.4 yards per carry average) and 10 touchdowns while splitting carries with three other tailbacks.
Last season, Perry led the Tigers to New Era Field before falling to Lancaster in the Class AA final. If he can change his team’s fate this season he’ll have a good chance to make the banquet.
Jake Ritts – QB – St. Francis (Junior)
Many of the Red Raider faithful were expecting to see their sophomore quarterback go through some growing pains in only his second-career start when St. Francis opened the season at Erie, PA powerhouse McDowell. The Red Raiders didn’t win, but Jake Ritts showed he was more than capable, breaking the school record for passing yards in a game, a mark that had stood for over 35 years.
As mentioned above, Ritts went on to break the WNY single-season passing record and flirted with the single-season touchdown record leading St. Francis to a Monsignor Martin A division championship in 2018. The quarterback returns three of his top four receivers this season.
On pace to break even more St. Francis and WNY records over the next two years, the junior should be considered a prime candidate for the award in 2019.
Jimmy Scott – RB – St. Joe’s (Sophomore)
The St. Joe’s football program was thrown into a whirlwind last summer unexpectedly losing both their starting quarterback and running back. But freshman tailback Jimmy Scott helped led the Marauders in a competitive Monsignor Martin A Division in 2018.
There’s a bunch of talent at the school on Kenmore Avenue, but Scott gets the nod on this list after leading the team in rushing with 808 yards, a 7.5 yards per carry average.
If St. Joe’s can reach the Championship game this year, Scott will have a real chance at reaching the banquet as well.
Jake Skinner – TE – Fredonia (Senior)
Jake Skinner’s social media buzz this offseason almost rivaled that of Buffalo Sabres forward Jeff Skinner.
However, Jake could be looking at a different type of signing in the future.
Skinner got a surprise direct message on Twitter from Alabama line coach Kyle Flood after watching his junior season highlight reel. He has visited Tuscaloosa and received offers from several other schools.
The 6′ 4″, 230-pound TE/LB, who had 16 catches for 428 yards and six touchdowns while registering 124 tackles last year, stood out as one of the top players at the Lancaster 7-on-7 Tournament in mid-July, where the Hillbillies fell to CSP in the small school final.
If Skinner can live up to the hype this season and lead his team to the stadium, his stock both inside and outside of WNY will continue to rise.
Jack Sharp – QB – Orchard Park (Senior)
Not many quarterbacks in WNY can say they’ve thrown for 1,500 yards in back-to-back seasons. Jack Sharp is one of the few who can. And lucky for Orchard Park, he has a chance to do it again.
The senior, who enters 2019 with 10 career victories and 30 passing touchdowns, was one of the top quarterbacks at the Lancaster 7-on-7 Tournament.
If Sharp can get close to 2,000 passing yards and lead the Quakers to a Class AA title this season he will be a top contender for the award.
Clarence Thomas – RB – South Park (Senior)
After leading the Sparks on the ground (798 yards, 10 TDs) his sophomore year, hopes were extremely high for Clarence Thomas in 2018. Unfortunately, an injury in the first quarter of South Park’s season opener kept him off the field for most of the year.
The tailback played in five games last season, running for 392 yards on 45 carries.
A fully-healthy Thomas can help lift what is an always solid Sparks team to the Section VI final and bring himself some personal accolades in the process.
Savon Van Sickle – RB – Jamestown (Junior)
Like the candidate above, Savon Van Sickle’s 2018 season was also spoiled by an injury early in the year.
After a promising freshman year where he had 627 rushing yards (7.5 yards per carry) and 173 receiving yards for 14 total touchdowns, Van Sickle’s sophomore campaign ended before it even started suffering an injury in the first game of the season.
The Red Raiders are hopeful he’s back to 100 percent as Jamestown moves up to Class AA this season. Certainly, if he can pick up where he left off his freshman year, he’ll be a force to be reckoned with.
Also Worthy of Mention…
Hayden Carder – RB – Frontier (Junior) Chris Diem – RB – Cleveland Hill (Senior) Jack Dlugokinski – RB – Grand Island (Junior) Brayden Dunlap – RB – Wilson (Senior) Chris Gordon – QB – Niagara Wheatfield (Senior) Zaire Leonard – RB – Williamsville North (Sophomore) Carson Marcus – QB – Starpoint (Sophomore) David Morgan Jr. – RB – Kenmore West (Senior) Imani Reed – RB – Cheektowaga (Senior) Alex Reinhardt – DE – Bishop Timon/St. Jude (Senior) Jayden Robinson – QB – Hutch Tech (Senior) Cal Shifflet – WR – Williamsville East (Senior) Riley Simpson – WR – Canisius (Junior) Nate Styles – WR – Lake Shore (Senior) Tywon Wright – RB – Southwestern (Senior)