Grid Panthers open 2012 slate at noon today in Buffalo
By John D'Onofrio Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
The Chuck Nagel Era of high school varsity football has begin in Newfane and it's a promising one for the Panthers, who bring size and athleticism back in 2012.
The optimistic Nagel has been a teacher at Newfane for the past eight years and was coach of the Panthers' junior varsity football team for the past six years.
The Panthers are hoping to improve upon last year's 3-6 varsity record and the loss to graduation of some important leaders and producers, including Sean Seefeldt (now kicking at Edinboro University), Steve Lakes, Max Russell and Jeremy Deschambeau.
Among his key returners is senior tailback/linebacker Connor Sears, whom coach Nagel said will carry the load on offense for the royal blue and white.
“He's six feet, almost 200 pounds and he's got above-average speed for a guy that size,” Nagel said. “He's very agile and he's a tough kid.”
The quarterbacking position remains up for grabs in the Blue Zone and Nagel said that will carry over into this afternoon's Section VI season opener (noon, versus Buffalo East at Wiley Stadium) as both junior Josh Kneeland and senior Jake Bow are expected to take snaps.
Kneeland was brought up last year as a sophomore and played very well. Bow played his last few seasons in Lockport, but has quickly earned his new teammates' respect, being voted a Newfane team captain.
“Jake's a serious kid. He takes the game, including workouts and practices, very seriously. He's a quality leader and a quick player. If he isn't playing quarterback, we'll definitely have him at wide receiver.”
The Panthers' offensive line is led by senior co-captain Todd Capen, one of several players Nagel praised for their hard work in the weight room throughout the summer. Other linemen working out diligently include fleet-footed senior guard Kenyon Rizzo, 6-2 Seth Greg and 6-1 junior Sean Costello.
Wideouts include Chris Hannah, Brian and Stone Geise and Colin Huntington.
Defensively, the Panthers are led by two of the team's toughest players in senior linebackers Matt Finch and John Schmidt. Senior Jake O'Keefe joins Bow and Sears at defensive back. Defensive linemen include 6-3 junior stalwart Bryan Gertz.
Newfane's kicker this season is senior Brian Ratajczak. Sears will handle the punting duties.
“We'll have to play smart against Buffalo East,” Nagel said. “We'll need to contain their quarterback and running backs and we'll need to tackle well and play mistake-free ball.”