WILSON — For the Faery family, it’s all in the name.
Wilson put together a historic season this fall, posting its first ever undefeated regular season, winning the Class C North division and earning a berth in the Section VI C championship game for the first time since 1990. None of this would have been possible without Declan Faery.
Faery was one of Western New York’s top tight ends, leading the Lakemen with his 31 receptions, 401 receiving yards and 4 TDs. But he profoundly made his presence felt at defensive end. He placed fourth on the team with 46 tackles, and he terrorized backfields with his 13 sacks and 20 tackles for loss.
Head coach Bill Atlas said though Faery is not the most vocal leader, the quiet team captain made sure to lead by example. Atlas said Faery was never one to get in a teammate’s grill or call them out, instead trying to bring his team along with his humble demeanor.
“He just wanted to do his job to the best of his ability,” Atlas said. “And hope that if he put forth all of his effort, that would be sorta pulling the guys with him to show them how to do it.”
Atlas admitted it was fun coaching a lengthy kid with a 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame, which took time for him to grow into. Four years ago, Faery was just a scrawny young man trying to make his name at Wilson.
“It was really fun to have someone that size, that good of an athlete,” Atlas said. “Usually, if they’re that size, they’re not the fastest or they’re not the strongest. Or it takes them a while to grow into their bodies, and that’s what it did for him in the beginning. But once he started taking the weight room seriously and said this is something that is gonna help me be successful this year and will also (make me) successful for maybe future years if he can play at the next level, it was really, really fun to watch him grow and be someone who that size that was that good of an athlete.”
Faery himself talked about this transformation, a journey that started during his freshman year in 2016.
“I was always like one of the skinniest kids on the team. I’d get pushed around a little bit,” Faery said. “So I knew I really had to bulk up playing varsity and I was able to do that some last year. Definitely saw some improvement, then last offseason, me and Steve (Frerichs) really hit the weights hard and I was able to see some improvement there.”
Training with the 2018 C North offensive player of the year and current Morrisville State QB paid dividends. This season was everything Faery and his teammates dreamed of, especially for the boys in the senior class.
“We’re all just like a really close-knit group, so playing with your best friends that really helps,” Faery said. “ ... (I’ll be most proud about) just getting to the ‘Ralph’ for the first time in (almost) 30 years, just because ever since my first youth team we were saying our senior season, that’s gonna be the year. So it’s great to finally make that happen and make good on that.”
Atlas was upset to not have his two-way star that night at New Era Field, which he mentioned as being one of the few opportunities people would have gotten a real look at the type of player Faery is aside from what some clamored over through highlight tapes on social media.
Faery had lacerated a kidney late in a semifinal win over Portville. He managed to finish that game, clinching the win by deflecting a pass in the air and coming down with the interception.
Not being able to play against Southwestern in the title game meant that his single-season sack total would be set at 13 — tying the program-record set by his father and defensive coordinator Matt Faery.
The two knew they were lucky to share this special season together.
“Growing up I would always ask him about what he did when he was in high school, what’d he do in college, stuff like that,” Declan said. “It was just great because he’s been my coach since we moved here and I started playing football.”
After living in Montana up to 2009, Matt moved Declan and the family back to New York. Declan began playing football in fourth grade and Matt was right there with him on the sidelines. What also made this season so special was that Matt had coached many of this year’s players since those youth league days.
When asked if he envisioned Declan producing the way he did, Matt, who played collegiately at Division I Holy Cross, jokingly said “he better have.” What else would you expect in the Faery bloodline, with Matt, Declan and his uncle Bill all ranking first, second and third, respectively, in career sacks in the program? Matt knew once Declan began tackling other kids in flag football leagues, it was time to put on the pads.
“Well I guess we’ve gotta thank the grandparents for that,” Matt joked. “It’s nice, especially in a small town. It’s a close-knit community, everybody knows each other and it seems you see that in every town, you see a last name and you see like it’s a generational thing in sports, especially in a small town like this. ... To be a part of that family that actually is that, it’s a pride thing and I think that goes to our competitive nature also, inside of ourselves.
“We come from farmer’s families up here. We don’t farm so much anymore around here but we have that hard work and that work ethic from our grandfathers and fathers. And I think that translated to the sports.”
The biggest challenge was figuring out whether Declan would commit to focusing on his hockey career or if he’d remain on the gridiron. Good thing he stuck to football, because his favorite moments like the overtime win over Newfane in front of 2,000-plus fans or his heroices to beat Portville would have never happened.
Declan may not have been the fastest or most God-given athletic talent, but Matt said his son’s coachability is what made him such an effective football player. Being able to have a DE with such technique that could two-gap the way Declan did, is just one of the many things Matt will miss about coaching him.
“Just the pride in what he was able to accomplish, and then he took my teaching and other coaches teaching, Coach Atlas and Coach (Steve Frerichs Sr.) also in little league,” Matt said.
“And then take it upon himself to make himself better, that’s a pride thing where it’s like, ‘OK, it just wasn’t me, he actually wants this for himself.’ And then to watch him excel on the field, I actually think he could’ve done great in any level of football in Western New York. I’m just glad he was able to do it here where I lived. It was actually kind of neat seeing him chase the sack record and me trying to bench him. But those are great memories watching your own son chase your record.
“I think that’s awesome. I wish every father could actually experience that.”
For more from sports reporter Khari Demos, follow him on Twitter @riri_demos. Also, tune in to Khari as a guest on Tony Caligiuri’s ‘Inside High School Sports,’ 10 a.m. Saturdays on WGR 550.