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  • Writer's picturetgardner1167

Rivalries put aside for Lions All-Star Classic

No one opponent is supposed to be more important than the others, but there’s always that one team that makes you turn that intensity up a little more.

Western New York is home to many great high school rivalries, games where teams and their players focus a little more in practice, study the film a little bit harder and bring a little more to the table leading up to the game.

However, after four years of intense strife, some football players have had to put those feelings aside for at least the past week as they competed on the same side at the 43rd annual Lions Club All-Star Football Classic on Wednesday night.

Even the area’s most intense rivalry was not immune. St. Joe’s graduates Andy Gradolph and Cameron Dabill and Canisius graduates Will McGennis and Brad Currell were all on the North squad.

“It was a little weird at the beginning,” North lineman Gradolph admitted. “I went to them and said ‘the rivalry is over with’ so we slapped each other up and said ‘let’s play ball.'”

Throughout Wednesday’s game all four of them were routinely seen on the offensive line, often with a golden helmet right beside a maroon one.

Any bad blood was put aside early as they all had a single goal on their minds, to help the North team win.

Unfortunately for them, it didn’t turn out as such with the South team rolling to a 36-0 victory.

“We’re on the same team now,” McGennis said after the first practice. “We have to bond together now because come game time if we’re divided we’re not going to have a lot of success.”

That certainly wasn’t the only hatchet that had to be buried.

Former Lumberjack Jordan Holmes played with Tonawanda grad Henry Palermo.

On the South squad, West Seneca West graduates Jesse Broad, Vinny Draper and Brad Claycomb were coached by West Seneca East head coach Jim Maurino and played along with his sons, Jared and Jacob.

After suffering a heartbreaking loss to them in the Class B Section VI final Maryvale’s Dylan Casey and Ray Blackwell lined up with crosstown rivals from Cheektowaga Tommy Zolnowski, Terrance Bass and Tariq Whitaker.

The week was a reunion of sorts for Vinny Catanzaro.

The Williamsville North graduate was excited to once again be on the same team as Joe Shifflet (Williamsville East), Nick Huber (Williamsville South) as well as fellow Spartan Cam Walter. The group grew up playing together at the Williamsville Jr. Football league.

“It’s pretty cool to be able to play with these guys again,” Catanzaro said. “They’re all good guys and great football players. We weren’t on the best teams but we still had a great time. It’s nice to gather together and play with these guys.”

The Williamsville teams have played some exciting games over the past two years. In 2016, South edged North 13-12 in a Week 9 matchup game. In Week 2 of last season, North beat East 35-18 in an early non-league game.

But the most memorable game of recent history happened last season when East spoiled the opening of South’s new stadium. On 4th and 18, Shifflet made a catch over the middle of the field and went 60 yards for the game-winning score with under a minute to go to cement the victory.

It’s a game Huber would like to forget.

“(Shifflet and I) talked about that play a couple of times,” Huber said after Wednesday’s game. “He would joke about it and I was like ‘we’re just going to leave it at that’, but it was still a fun experience.”

Besides catching up with old buddies, Huber also got to know former Class A North division foe Joe Torrillo of Sweet Home a little better before they team up at St. John Fischer.

These players will always cherish their school pride and hatred of their rival, but when push comes to shove football and friendship will always triumph.

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