CHEEKTOWAGA, NY – – The High School Football season is in full swing after Scrimmage Saturday concluded last weekend. Many players are anxious and eager to return to the gridiron in the regular season this upcoming weekend and begin their journey to New Era Field in Orchard Park, New York.
A team that generally makes the appearance at the home of the Buffalo Bills, no matter if its in Class B or Class C, and dominates the opposition year in and year out is the Cleveland Hill Golden Eagles. The Golden Eagles, who call Cheektowaga home, have a very good track record as they have won two sectional titles in the last four years. Head Coach Glen Graham, who currently owns an 84-36 record in his 12-year tenure, is hoping to add another sectional title to his résumé.
“We’re really fortunate to have great kids that buy into the program and I think the consistency of the coaching staff,” Graham said about what’s behind Cleveland Hill’s success. “This is going to be my 13th season and before that Coach (Dennis) Mason was the head coach for 22 years and did a fantastic job. I was an assistant for him and he continues to be our offensive coordinator. Chad Kuras has 20 years as a coach in our program.”
The Golden Eagles may need to find the recipe that they had last season as they advanced to the Class C semifinal game but lost to the eventual Section VI Class C champion Maple Grove/Chautauqua Lake, 28-20. Cleveland Hill finished last season with a 7-2 record, including a 5-1 mark in the Class C North division (in which they remain). They outscored their opponents 284-170 and held an impressive 4-1 record on the road, with their only road loss coming to Bennett, 36-6.
Cleveland Hill is losing 12 seniors from last season’s squad including a fairly good chunk of their offensive production from last year. Grayson Taylor, the school’s second leading rusher, is now playing Division-III football just down Interstate 90 for Mercyhurst. Taylor rushed for 1,655 yards on 171 carries while finding pay-dirt 18 times in his senior campaign. The other running back that gave opponents fits last season was Daytwon Burney. He was handed the ball 67 times last season, rushing for 630 yards and scoring 9 times. Cleveland Hill is also losing their top receiver DeJour Bozeman who caught 15 passes for 246 yards and scored once.
“You can’t really say you can replace a kid like Grayson,” Graham said about losing those key players from last season. “[Burney and Bozeman] were also fantastic for us but this is an opportunity for the young guys to step up. Some of the guys who were juniors who played behind those guys will do so as seniors. I don’t think you replace those guys. You take the talent that you have and try to find the best way to utilize those guys.”
The Golden Eagles are looking ahead, however, as they bring back some really good talent for 2016. Aaron Wahler, a sophomore, will likely be taking the handoffs from Senior Quarterback Tyler Phillips who is in his first year as a starter. Wahler played all of last season on Varsity, rushing 26 times for 308 yards and scoring twice.
“He’s done a great job at tailback,” Coach Graham said about Wahler. “We had him up as a freshman last year and he did a fantastic job for us. He didn’t see the ball much but as a sophomore he’s got good speed and a good head on his shoulders.”
Nate Pawlowski and Sam Arrington will be the key linemen returning for the Golden Eagles. Some of the key defensive players for Coach Graham’s team include Senior Matt Eldridge, Junior Ryan Majerowski and Junior Manny Al-Hemyari. Eldridge, arguably the Golden Eagles’ best player on both sides of the ball, will be the key player to look for. Eldridge led the Golden Eagles last season with 86 tackles, 54 of which were solo tackles. Majerowski played last season with Cleveland Hill’s JV team but impressed the coaches enough to get a call up for the Golden Eagles’ playoff run. Al-Hemyari only saw time on defense for the Golden Eagles in 2015 and is looking to take snaps on both sides of the ball in 2016.
“Our defense is going to be a lot better than we were last year,” Eldridge said about the upcoming season. “We’re getting back to our old Cleve Hill defense, hitting people and shutting people out. We were good in the past but that doesn’t mean that we’re automatically good now. We need to keep working and keep grinding.”
Cleveland Hill will open up their season on Friday night at fellow Cheektowaga school, Maryvale for a 7:00pm kickoff. Following their opening game against the Flyers, the Golden Eagles will host their home opener against the Wilson Lakemen before traveling to Jamestown to face the Southwestern Trojans. After the long trek to face the Trojans the Golden Eagles will have three consecutive home games at Carl J. Kuras Field against divisional opponents Akron, Eden/North Collins and a a non-league game with Medina. The Golden Eagles season will conclude with crosstown rival John F. Kennedy for their annual match, which will be held at JFK this year.
“Teams are going to have some unfortunate injuries or may lose a kid here or there. You never know what’s going to go on,” Coach Graham said about their 2016 schedule. “Nothing is easy in this game and when you start thinking that, that’s when bad things happen. We’re taking it one week at a time. The Maryvale game, a traditional for us, is a big game. As the league schedule goes, there are teams that are going to better than they were last year and we’re going to have to continue to get better every week and play those kids as hard as possible.”