The Iroquois Chiefs are a Class B football program.
You may find yourself repeating that sentence over and over. But the drop in Class doesn’t bother second-year head coach Robert Pitzonka at all.
“We just didn’t have the depth that some of those other schools had (in Class A),” Pitzonka said. “Now we are playing teams more our size.”
Not that playing in a lower class does not present its own set of challenges. Football is still football and the teams most prepared usually hover close to the top of the standings. The Chiefs are one of those teams that seem to be leading the pack when it comes to preparation.
“Since January 3rd we’ve been going six days a week to get ready,” Pitzonka said. “My best friend and college teammate Ben Woods had us over at STA Sports Performance for two days a week during the off-season. The work the guys have put in has been awesome.”
Last season Iroquois was defeated in the second round of the playoffs by eventual State champion West Seneca West, 35-14.
“We were tied at the half so it was a little disappointing the way it ended,” senior quarterback Ethan Herbold said.
The Chiefs will no longer be aligned with teams like South Park or Starpoint, teams with great numbers. Down in Class B they will now battle programs such as Cheektowaga, Pioneer and Maryvale.
“I just think we match-up well in this division,” senior cornerback and wide receiver Cody Collins said. “Personally, I’ve been trying to get bigger because I have the mindset of a big guy and I wanted to build muscle over the winter.”
Joining Herbold and Collins on varsity this year is Ethan Bowen, a 6′ 4″ wide receiver that has not played a down of football since the eighth grade.
“I really wanted to play on this team,” Bowen said. “I had to convince my Dad that I wanted to do this. It almost happened last year but here I am now.”
Bowen will be a big target on a team with some already skilled receivers including freshman Kendall Mariacher, Collins, Chance Camillo, Sam Fones, Conrad Warchocki, Cory Day and Harrison Justice.
“Our coaching staff changed the offense up a bit last year going with an RPO (Run-pass option) style,” Herbold said. “I was more comfortable in it and I started to feel more confident in what I could do.”
Coach Pitzonka agrees.
“We knew what we had in Ethan (Herbold). He is becoming more athletic and he scored high on his SAT’s so we knew we could throw more things at him,” Pitzonka said.
Herbold’s play last year along with his academics started to open some doors as well. A number of Ivy League and Division I-AA schools have already met with the senior.
The football programs in the area are now aligned vertically, from little league all the way up through varsity.
“The EMW (Elma, Marilla, Wales) Program mimics what we are doing and they even switched to our school colors. The numbers are very good there and in our modified program as well. Our varsity players are active in the younger programs, they helped with a camp over the summer so we are building something here that we can all be proud of and hopefully that leads to success,” Pitzonka said.
Iroquois will begin 2018 with a road game at Lew-Port and then two straight home games against Pioneer and then Cheektowaga. Maryvale visits in week four.
The playing field might have leveled off for Iroquois but they are approaching the 2018 season cautiously. The Warriors and Flyers are not going to lay down for them and the Chiefs realize this.
Last month at the Lancaster 7-on-7 the Chiefs started out quickly with three straight wins but were bounced in the first playoff round.
Now that the season has officially started, nobody is going to care where the Chiefs played last year.