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Sweet Home looking to get back on track

It wasn’t too long ago when the Sweet Home football program was the talk of Section VI. But after a decade of dominance that included two state championships, seven sectional titles (six in a row) and a 69-game win streak against local opponents, the Panthers have spent the last few years rebuilding, retooling and revamping the varsity football program.

The 2017 season was a relatively successful campaign, the Panthers finished 5-3 (4-2 Class A North) and ended the year with a first-round playoff loss to West Seneca West, who they will see again this year week one.

“West Seneca West will be a good measuring stick to see where we’re at,” head coach Jeremy Zimmer said. “It’ll be a good test for us to go out that first Friday night.”

Zimmer is Sweet Home’s third head coach in as many seasons but has been with the program for 20 years and he’s been working with this group of kids for a while now.

“We’ve been meeting as a team since the end of January, at least once a week,” Zimmer said. “We’ve been doing weight room workouts three mornings a week since June and we’ve been meeting every Tuesday night.”

Sweet Home has also done 7-on-7s with a number of other schools this summer, including Canisius, Cheektowaga, Cleveland Hill, Depew, Kenmore West and Williamsville North.

Zimmer says the main thing the Panthers have worked on this summer is improving their run game. Last season, Sweet Home scored a lot of their points on big plays but this year Zimmer wants to “find more consistency and have drives that consist of 10, 12 to 14 plays.”

Zimmer knows that Sweet Home’s run game will go as far as their offensive line can take them. Luckily, Zimmer has high hopes for his guys in the trenches.

“I really like the o-line we have coming back,” Zimmer said. “The last few years we’ve had younger guys there and I wouldn’t say in the last few years that the offensive line was a strength of our team where as this year I think it’s going to be.”

Senior captains and third-year varsity players Adam Laboy and Keith Murphy will be the leaders of that unit. Also, on the line will be junior Brady Lock and sophomore Jimmy Griffo. Unfortunately for the Panthers, senior lineman Josh Rose, suffered an ACL injury in July.

Another bright spot on Sweet Home’s offense is their quarterback Maurice Robertson. The senior, who split snaps last season with Joe Torrillo but will be the full-time starter this fall, threw for 776 yards and 10 touchdowns and ran for 277 yards and five scores.

“He should be the biggest strength of our offense,” Zimmer said of Robertson. “He’s very athletic and can break one at any time. He’s up to about 6-foot-2-inches and 180 pounds and colleges see him as a legit (Division) 1-AA player.”

Zimmer said Robinson has gotten looks from schools including Albany, Bryant University and Robert Morris.

Another offensive player that will be a mainstay in the starting lineup is senior running back Sam Roby.

Roby lined up at receiver last season but he will shoulder a much bigger load this year being the number one back.

“He’s a bit smaller in size but he’s as quick as can be, he’s going to have some big games for us as well,” Zimmer said

On the defensive side, Sweet Home will be led by DE and captain Rob Giancarlo. The senior received an All-WNY honorable mention last season and is also an incredible student off the field.

“He’s a coaches dream,” Zimmer said. “He’s a super reliable, high-character kid. He finished third in his class, scored very high on his first SAT and because of that he’s been invited to a number of Ivy League schools.”

Zimmer mentioned that Giancarlo attended a camp at Princeton University earlier this summer and impressed a number of coaches there.

For as much individual talent that Sweet Home has, Zimmer really likes this year’s group as a whole and plans to use a lot of kids. Zimmer mentioned there is a chance he could have 19 different guys starting throughout the 22 positions.

“I’d like to make an effort to have kids play only one way,” Zimmer said. “I’m really going to make an effort to keep guys fresh and hopefully it’ll pay off,”

When asked about the main goal for the season, Zimmer was very straightforward in saying he believes the Panthers have a shot to win the sectional title.

“We’d like to continue the upswing we’ve had,” Zimmer said. “I would think our main goal though is to get back to the Bills’ stadium and win a Section VI championship.”

It’ll be a challenge for the Panthers, especially playing in the competitive Class A2 league, but the head coach really likes his squad and believes they can bring Sweet Home back to the top.

“I’m super happy with our team this year character-wise,” Zimmer added, “they’re a great group to be around. I like that they’re a hard working group of kids and they’re good too. We’ve got some talent, we’re still Sweet Home. We’re going to come out, play fast paced, score a lot of points and get after it. We’re going to get a little bit of that swagger back.”

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