Boeck’s Preseason Connolly Cup Contenders
Football is a team sport.
11 players all have to be on the same page every single play in order to have success.
The quarterback makes a bad read, the wide receiver runs the wrong route, the lineman misses the block or the tailback goes the wrong way and the play won’t work.
That will never change.
However, among all the uniformity there are always a few individuals who stand out above the rest.
The Connolly Cup is about recognizing them.
Since 1972, the Connolly Cup committee has been evaluating and honoring the best high school football players in Western New York.
Each year the committee names 10 finalists who are invited to a banquet at Ilio Dipaolo’s on the first Saturday of December where the winner is awarded.
While they probably wouldn’t admit to spending time thinking about individual accolades, I’m sure the thought of winning one of the area’s most prestigious awards has crossed the following players minds at least once or twice.
Last season, Matt Myers led West Seneca West to its first ever State championship and became the 46th Connolly Cup winner.
Cheektowaga’s KeShone Beal, Maryvale’s Rashad Law, Cleveland Hill’s Aaron Whaler and Southwestern’s Cole Snyder all return after taking the stage with Myers as finalists in 2017.
As we prepare for the 2018 season, I’m ready to get the discussion started on who will be the award’s 47th winner.
The following is my personal take on who are the top contenders for the Connolly Cup award. I am 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.
KeShone Beal – QB – Cheektowaga
There are always high expectations for Cheektowaga football and last season first-year quarterback KeShone Beal handled it well as he led the Warriors to the State semifinals. Beal is not a prototypical quarterback standing at 5′ 8″ and 225 pounds but the “fullback mentality” that he brings to the table did the job for Cheektowaga. Beal threw for 1,614 yards and 19 touchdowns while running for 1,220 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2017.
The Warriors have been represented at each of the last four banquets with Beal making it last year. A big senior season from Beal should make it five in a row and possibly give Cheektowaga it’s first-ever winner.
Aaron Chase – QB – Starpoint
Starpoint is traditionally known for their power running game, but in just one season Chase changed all that. In 2017, the Spartans offense had one of the most prolific passing attacks in the area in large part due to Chase. Chase threw for over 1,000 yards and 14 touchdowns last season. As the quarterback heads into his senior year he already holds five school records.
If he can keep his pace up and the Spartans can get deep into the playoffs this season Chase will have a strong case to accomplish another first for his school, winning the Connolly Cup.
Kaiyer Fields – RB – McKinley
Fields jumped onto the scene in Week 1 last season by running for 313 yards and two scores on the Orchard Park defense. However, his season came to an unfortunate end when he suffered an injury on a kick return in the Macks’ Week 7 loss against Iroquois. Fields ended the year with 1,100 yards and four touchdowns. He appears to be fully recovered as he enters into his senior year.
Fields and the Macks have already dealt with some adversity with head coach Brian Hillery stepping down a week before the season. If McKinley can get through that and compete in the Class A2 division this year, Fields will certainly get some consideration for the Connolly Cup.
Steven Frerichs – QB – Wilson
Frerichs went under the radar in 2017, but a look back his stats and film shows the he could be one of the area’s better quarterbacks. The Wilson QB threw for 1,664 and 21 touchdowns, while running for 445 yards and eight touchdowns last season. He was also second on his team with 47 total tackles. Frerichs went toe-to-toe with Southwestern in the Class C sectional semifinals.
No Lakeman has been invited to the banquet since Dave Schmidli won the award in 1996. If Wilson can get a few more ticks in the win column, Frerichs can change that.
Garrett Hinsdale – QB – Clymer/Sherman/Panama
Although he was a first-year starting sophomore quarterback last season, Hinsdale’s poise and ability to fit the ball into tight windows made him look more like a three-year senior. The quarterback threw for 1,282 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2017. With Hinsdale under center, the Wolfpack improved to 6-3 last season and came within a score of Class D state runner-up Maple Grove in the sectional semifinal.
With Franklinville/Ellicottville moving up to Class C this year, Hinsdale and the Wolfpack are primed to make a big run in Class D.
Dabeyon Humphrey – QB – South Park
After missing the playoffs in 2016, South Park was looking for a rebound year in 2017. With Humphrey under center that’s just what they got. The quarterback led the Sparks to the stadium before falling to eventual State Champion West Seneca West. Humphrey had the best year statistically out of everyone on this list throwing for nearly 1,800 yards and 18 touchdowns while running for over 500 yards and three touchdowns. The quarterback showed the ability to hit targets down the field last season and is deceptively quick and hard to bring down when he gets going.
If Humphrey can lead South Park to their fourth trip to the stadium in five years, he will have a strong case to join former Spark Tyree Brown as a Connolly Cup winner.
Jack Putney – QB – Clarence
Quarterbacks, just like any other position have to put their time in in the weight room. Putney has far exceeded that becoming one of, if not the strongest quarterback in the area squatting 405 lbs. The senior is entering his third-year as the starting quarterback for the Red Devils. Last season, Putney threw for 971 yards and eight touchdowns and ran for 472 yards and a score as Clarence went 5-4, winning the Class AA Chuck Funke Bowl. Putney and the Red Devils return much of last year’s starting group on both sides of the ball.
If Clarence can get to the top of Class AA in 2018, Putney could become the school’s first player to ever win the Connolly Cup.
Joe Jamison – RB/LB – Canisius
Jamison was the hero last year when he took his own forced fumbled for a touchdown to seal the Crusaders’ second straight Monsignor Martin title. The tailback ran for 713 yards, averaging eight yards a carry, and scored 11 touchdowns last season. On the defensive side, Jamison had 75 total tackles and seven sacks.
With quarterback Jayce Johnson and a host of other multi-year starters graduated, Canisius will look for Jamison take on a bigger role this season.
Juston Johnson – WR/DB – West Seneca West
Johnson is fairly high on Matt Myers’ thank you list for winning the Connolly Cup last season. Their connection along with Johnson’s athleticism played a huge part in West Seneca West’s success in 2017. Johnson caught 53 passes for 907 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also carried the ball 16 times for 157 yards.
With rest all of the talent the Indians bring back, expect Johnson to have another big year.
Rashad Law – RB/SS – Maryvale
Law was in a crowed backfield his sophomore year running for only 424 yards. Last season, he more than doubled that with nearly 900 rushing yards and scored 13 touchdowns, earning him a spot at the banquet. The elusive runner also brings it on the defensive side of the ball. He had 90 total tackles in 2017. Maryvale was a two-point conversion away from winning the Class B sectional title last year. This season, Law and other key Flyers return poised to get back to the stadium.
If he can eclipse the 1,000-yard mark and Maryvale wins a sectional title, Law could very well bring home his school’s first Connolly Cup in over a quarter century.
Jake Ritts – QB – St. Francis
Ritts jumped onto the scene at the end of 2017 when he started under center in the Red Raiders’ final game. The freshman went 16 for 27, throwing for 281 yards in St. Francis’ 18-13 loss to St. Joe’s in the Monsignor Martin semifinals.
Despite the loss, Ritts impressed many in Red Raider nation and is expected to be the starter heading into 2018.
Jack Sharp – QB – Orchard Park
Orchard Park underachieved (by Orchard Park standards) in 2017 being knocked out in the quarterfinals of the Class AA playoffs. Still, the Quakers showed a lot of promise for the future, namely quarterback Jack Sharp. Sharp started as a sophomore last year for OP throwing for nearly 1,600 yards and 15 touchdowns. That experience should come in handy as the Quakers will need to figure out who will be running the ball this season.
If Orchard Park can return to their winning ways this season, Sharp will certainly be a big reason why.
Cam Sionko – QB – Grand Island
One of Grand Island’s favorite three-sport athletes will be asked to do more than ever after the Vikings graduated their top two rushers and receivers from last season’s Class A North championship team. In his first year as the full-time starter, Sionko threw for over 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns. With much of his supporting cast gone, the senior will be called on to lead a young Grand Island team this year.
If he can meet the task, Sionko should get strong Connolly Cup consideration.
Cole Snyder – QB – Southwestern
Snyder had one of the more exciting off-seasons of anyone on the list. The 2017 finalist committed to Rutgers earlier this summer. Last season, Snyder threw for 1,597 yards and 18 touchdowns as he led the Trojans to a 7-3 record. Snyder has taken Southwestern to two straight appearances at the stadium but have been overcome by Cleveland Hill both times.
If the future Knight can finally get his team over the ‘hill’ this year, Snyder could find himself atop WNY High School Football in December.
Savon VanSickle – RB – Jamestown
As just a freshman VanSickle led the Red Raiders in rushing with 627 yards, averaging 7.5 yards per carry, and 12 touchdowns. He also hauled in seven catches for 173 yards and a pair of touchdowns while picking up 65 total tackles on defense. The tailback returns for his sophomore season as Jamestown moves down to the Class A1 division.
It’s rare for a sophomore to get an invite to the banquet, but if Jamestown goes deep into the playoffs VanSickle may be in serious contention for it.
Aaron Whaler – RB – Cleveland Hill
It’s no secret that Cleveland Hill likes to keep it on the ground. But even with opposing defenses knowing what the Golden Eagles were going to do they still couldn’t stop Whaler last year. Whaler was the workhorse for Cleve Hill taking 145 carries for 1,348 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2017 to become his school’s fourth player in five years to be invited to the banquet. The tailback led the Golden Eagles to their second-straight sectional title and an appearance in the state semifinals.
If the senior can keep his production up and lead Cleveland Hill to the state final this year, look for Whaler to go from being named a finalist to winning it all.
Also worthy of mention…
Zac Boyes – QB – Kenmore West
Connor Crabtree – QB – CFV
Connor Desiderio – QB – Maryvale
Ira John – RB – Salamanca
Jemelle Jones – RB – Williamsville South
Dylan Kelly – WR – Williamsville North
CJ Masters – QB – Cardinal O’Hara
Nate Murdie – QB – Kenmore East
Jordan Parks – QB/RB/WR – Niagara Wheatfield
Izaiah Rhim – QB – Medina
Mike Rigerman – RB – Pioneer
Tywon Wright – RB – Dunkirk