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Legends Up for the Challenge

10-1.

That’s the record the 2016 Section VI Class AA champion Lancaster Legends football team had. It’s also the all-time record of head coach Eric Rupp.

Lost between the sectional championship, the high-powered offensive attack, two Connolly Cup finalists and having a once in a lifetime athlete is the fact that Rupp was a rookie head coach.

Rupp admitted last season was a great ride and was thankful for the people who helped make it happen.

“It was unbelievable,” Rupp said. “You try to take it one day at a time but I was blessed with a great coaching staff and a great group of kids that worked really hard.”

For the players on last year’s team, Rupp taking over as head coach wasn’t too much of a transition as many of the players had him in little league football and later on the JV.

Senior Ben Damiani, a starting linebacker for the Legends, says there was strong level of trust between the players and Rupp.

“He’s been coaching us for a while,” Damiani said of Rupp. “We know him, he knows us so we just had that chemistry.”

The Legends offense outscored their opponents 445-191 in 2016. Their offense could produce through the air and on the ground almost at will.

Leading much of that production last year were Zach Samborski and LG Castillo. Connolly Cup finalist Samborski is now playing Division-I football at Liberty and Castillo turned down a D-I baseball offer to play professionally in the Milwaukee Brewers’ farm system.

Now, Lancaster must turn their focus to 2017 where every opponent will be giving the Legends their best shot.

Returning starting quarterback Ryan Mansell knows it will be a lot more difficult to defend the sectional championship, rather than just go after it.

“Last year we were the underdog and we really embraced that,” Mansell said. “Now the challenge is that were ranked high and have all the preseason accolades. We have to put that aside because we start from scratch.”

Mansell is part of a strong group of seniors who are looking to get back to the stadium. Mansell comes back even stronger after spending much of the off-season taking lessons from QB gurus Joe Licata and Jim Kubiak.

As Mansell begins to work with his receiving core, he feels much more confident as a quarterback both in his mechanics and as a leader.

“I have grown a lot,” Mansell said. “Last year I had some mechanical issues that I could get away with. But this year I have tried to sharpen things and try to get the reads a little faster.

His head coach already felt strong about his QB, but even he has noticed some big improvements from Mansell coming into 2017.

“His footwork and ability to read a defense has really improved (over the offseason). I think he’s one of the best quarterbacks in WNY,” Rupp said. “He’s smart, throws a great deep ball. In our offense, you’re only as good as your quarterback.”

Damiani and Max Giordano are also big returning pieces for the Legends. Damiani will be leading the Lancaster defense at the linebacker position. Giordano was the Legends’ second Connolly Cup finalist.

Lancaster is expecting bigger impacts this year from seniors Andrew Hersey, Alec Tamburri and Kyle Backert.

Hersey didn’t get a lot of playing time sitting behind Samborski on the depth chart but produced when called upon last year. He will likely be getting the majority of the carries for the Legends this season.

6’3, 180-pound junior Brian Martin has impressed the coaching staff and his teammates this offseason and is expected to be a big threat at the tight end position.

According to Rupp the goal for the Legends is to defend and once again compete for a sectional championship.

“We’re focused on defending our sectional championship,” Rupp said. “We have a lot of seniors who just need the opportunity to succeed and we have a strong class of rising juniors.”

Mansell believes his team is up for the challenge.

“Nothing is going to be given to us,” Mansell said. “We’re going to come out here and work as hard as we did last year.”

Lancaster opens the season on Friday, September 1st as they host Bennett for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.

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