Demos: Notes ahead of the Monsignor Martin football championship

Khari Demos

Local teams may be done, but the high school football season rolls on for a few Niagara County products playing at private schools.

Tonight we've got Canisius (5-5) taking on St. Francis (8-1) for the Monsignor Martin championship. This will be a rematch from Oct. 25's matchup, where the Red Raiders prevailed, 38-27.

Canisius punched its ticket into the game by knocking off St. Joe's, 15-6, in the semifinal round. I was able to tune in to the defensive struggle, where I was able to catch up with players on both sidelines after the game.

• Canisius' Antwain Gandy-Benavides and Roderick Miller are Niagara Falls natives, joining starting tailback JoJo Dixon as Crusaders. The Falls residents have known each other for many years, growing up together as Cataract Little Loop football players.

Gandy-Benavides feels as though his team responds best when adversity strikes, especially considering it team has won five of the last seven games after an 0-3 start. Having spent the last three years as a Crusader, he said fighting these battles together has helped him and his "brothers" become "more of a family," so they can continue to stick together.

That family atmosphere has been the best thing about Canisius for Gandy-Benavides, who said the program brought him in with open arms.

He also talked about the team's "revenge tour." The Crusaders avenged a regular season loss to the Marauders last week, and now they hope to do the same against Frannies. Adding to that, last year's team had its season end at the hands of the Red Raiders.

"We're definitely gonna get our championship back," said Gandy-Benavides, whose Crusaders have not secured the conference crown since 2017. "That's what Canisius is all about."

Gandy-Benavides also talked about what its like seeing someone he has grown up with in Dixon, doing all that he has done this fall.

"He's been a real positive role model to this team," Gandy-Benavides said. "That's just someone you can look up to."

Listing himself as an "athlete," Gandy-Benavides does not want to be pinned down to just one position — just this season alone, he has played running back, slot receiver, safety and linebacker. 

• Miller is in a similar role, moving up to the varsity as a sophomore, playing RB in the backfield and at OLB on defense. He said it's been a "big jump" due to the bigger stage, how advanced the level is, the increased workload and the faster pace in comparison to JV, all of which he has enjoyed.

It's his second season now in the program, under head coach Rich Robbins.

"Coach Robbins is a great coach. Inside of football and outside of football," Miller said. "Like in school, if you ever need anything or any help, he's always around the school (and) always there to help. ... He's a great person (and) he makes sure our grades are good, academically."

Miller shared that the biggest piece he has learned from the esteemed coach is to play for something bigger than himself and to really buy into the brotherhood that a strong program like theirs provides.

The possibility of winning a championship with Gandy-Benavides and Dixon is a big deal for Miller, and he can't wait to see how his team shows out against Frannies.

• The season may be over for St. Joe's (6-4), but we still need to give credit to Sam Kline (Newfane native) and Wally Wisniewski (North Tonawanda native). These Niagara County products were the Marauders' top two receivers and they were able to develop a strong friendship in the process.

Kline, a senior, spent three seasons with the crimson and grey, putting his best efforts on display in '19 (43 receptions, 580 yards, 11 TDs). Wisniewski, only a junior, placed second on the team in all three categories (27 receptions, 435 yards, 5 TDs).

The last three seasons have been a delight for Kline, but most specifically this past season. Despite not being able to win a championship, he will cherish the lifelong friendships he made and he still believes this was a successful year. 

One of those friendships developed was the one he and Wisniewski formed. They were able to become such "good, well-connected friends" due to being Niagara County kids and their desires of playing against stiffer competition every week. Playing receiver can mean giving up targets to other players, but this was never something that got in the way of these two.

"We never got mad over who was having a better day or getting more targets," Kline said. "Because we both just wanted to win."

• With Callum Wither under center, Wisniewski made the transition back to receiver after playing QB for NT. He said it was not too tough though, due to spending time out wide as a JV player for the Jacks. 

Wisniewski talked about how the seniors "took me under their wing," when he first made the jump into the program, specifically Kline heading that front. He said his senior teammate had a "really big impact on me." Seeing Kline's work ethic on a daily basis allowed the junior receiver to emulate Kline's leadership qualities.

"I feel very lucky that I got to play with him for his senior year," Wisniewski said.

• One unique topic that we discussed was the historic 'T-NT' game from this season that saw the Warriors take down the Lumberjacks for the first time in nearly two decades. If you happened to be there that night, you'll remember there being a "you need Wally" chant started by the Tonawanda student section.

Wisniewski got a nice laugh out of that and he said he took the gesture as a compliment. What makes it even better is the girl who started the chant, Dev Galleciez, is one of Wisniewski's good friends.

"If that many people know my name from Tonawanda," Wisniewski said, "And they want to chant whatever they want at the 'T-NT' game, it's honestly a compliment."

Respond to sports reporter Khari Demos on Twitter @riri_demos or via email at khari.demos@gnnewspaper.com. Also, tune in to Khari as a guest on Tony Caligiuri's 'Inside High School Sports,' 10 a.m. Saturdays on WGR550.

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