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  • Writer's picturetgardner1167

Red Raiders Look to Reload

Even the Red Raiders will admit that they’ve lost a lot of talent from last year’s Monsignor Martin finalist team.

St. Francis (4-6, 2-2) graduated WNY All-time passing yards leader Jerry Hickson, two starting linemen and a back-up running back. One of last year’s Connolly Cup finalists Dylan McDuffie also left and they had some dismissals from the school.

Yet the expectations on Lake Shore road remain high for the Red Raiders, even if outsiders are counting them out. That’s because losing key pieces is nothing new for head coach Jerry Smith. The Franciscan school is always competing for a Monsignor Martin title and perennially sends players to the next level.

“We’re used to everyone saying ‘man you lost all these guys, what are you going to do?'”, Smith said. “Last year we had eight guys go on to play college football, the year before that we had six, before we had 13. Every year we go through a transition.”

Connor Miller and Jadd Dolegala can attest to that. They are both a part of family legacies at St. Francis. Miller’s older brother Mike is a starting defensive back at D-III Ithaca College. Dolegala has two older brothers playing at D-I Central Connecticut; Jacob will be competing for the starting quarterback job and Jarrett is a tight end.

Dolegala took over at the right tackle spot halfway through the year in 2016 and made an immediate impact. He is expected to be a leader on the line this year. The senior also starts at outside linebacker.

Miller will be a key returning piece in the secondary and the receiving core for the Red Raiders.

According to Miller, St. Francis can continue the success of years past if they work for it.

“It happens quite a bit in high school sports. The best players leave and the rest of the team comes together,” Miller said. “We know if everyone comes together and works hard that we’re going to be competitive and put ourselves in a position to win.”

Filling the big shoes left behind by Hickson is junior Dawson Tyger.

According to Smith, Tyger is not quite the same player as Hickson but should still get the job done.

“He’s a little bit different than what Hickson was like but he can throw the ball well,” Smith said.

Retsen Daley will be counted on as a key utility player for St. Francis. The senior has some Division-I AA offers and is one of the best all-around athletes on the team.

“(Daley) is our best player overall,” Smith said. “He’s a wide receiver, corner, safety and return guy for us. We’re looking at him to be big for us.”

Also returning on the offensive line is junior Grayson Myer. Myer has put on almost 25 pounds this off-season. He is also a returning starting inside linebacker for St. Francis.

The Red Raiders are also expecting a big impact from some new players this year.

St. Francis welcomes some international transfers this year including two 300-pound lineman from Canada and a tight end/defensive end from Norway.

Frannies is also looking for Jaron Alexander and Xavier Janczilik, who are coming up from JV, to have big impacts this year.

As important as on-field success is to Smith, success in the classroom is far more important. From the beginning of camp in August to the very end of the season the Red Raiders have ‘academic hour’, an hour set aside for the players to sit down and do their school work.

“Nothing goes on out on the field except through the academic world,” Smith said. “Football is going to end for everybody. You better have time-management, high character and you better be able to apply yourself academically.”

Despite all the talent they may have lost, the Red Raiders are planning on being as tough as always.

“Don’t sleep on us,” Dolegala warns. “They might think that we’re not going to be good this year with all the guys we lost but we have some good talent.”

St. Francis will host McDowell (PA) on Saturday September 2 at 7 p.m. to begin the 2017 season.

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