Day 1 of UB Football Camp

James Neiss/staff photographer Niagara Falls, NY - New Niagara Gazette Sports Reporter Khari Demos

And we back. Just like that, the University at Buffalo football season is starting up for another year of #MACtion.

The big story for the team coming into camp is having to replace the likes of QB Tyree Jackson, All-American linebacker Khalil Hodge and wideouts Anthony Johnson and K.J. Osborn. Coming off a historic 10-4 season sets a high bar that the Bulls have not had to reach for in some time. It’s a little too early to tell how the starting lineup will shake out, but head coach Lance Leipold plans to lean heavily on the backfield tandem of Jaret Patterson and Kevin Marks.

The sensational sophomore duo had breakout freshmen campaigns — Patterson lead the team with 1,013 yards and 14 rushing touchdowns, while Marks spelled him with 845 yards on the ground and 13 scores. Leipold also mentioned a list of other Bulls to keep an eye out for this season:

Zac Lefebvre — The tight end from Section V’s Victor High School who jumps out with his huge 6-foot-6 frame.

Antonio Nunn — A Florida native, he was described as an “explosive” wide receiver, who can fill-in to the No. 1 role to replace AJ & KJ.

James Patterson — Another standout freshman in 2018, Patterson brings some experience and production (77 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, 4 forced fumbles, 2 pass breakups, 1 fumble recovery).

Kadofi Wright — The Virginia native should see an increase in production as he enters into his junior season at outside linebacker.

Joey Banks & Tyrone Hill — This safety tandem will handle duties on the back end of the Bulls defense.

Aapri Washington — A sophomore CB who is already being compared to All-MAC corner Cam Lewis.

Taylor Riggins — An alumni of Section V’s powerhouse Aquinas, the junior DE had 31 tackles, 5 sacks and 6.5 TFL’s in ‘18, while learning under All-MAC DE Chuck Harris.

My focus on Wednesday was meeting with some of our local guys, specifically a trio of former Starpoint Spartans — Tajay Ahmed, Aaron Chase and Max Bowden.

Ahmed has been with the Bulls since January 2019, practicing with his new squad all throughout spring ball and getting integrated with the strength and conditioning program throughout the summer. He feels as though the spring season prepared him “physically and mentally” to help handle the rigors of a Division I football season. Having a level of comfortability due to his time with the team in the spring, Ahmed also talked about how that lead to what he thought was a great summer for himself.

The former Niagara Gazette Football Player of the Year has a unique chance to learn in a talented backfield behind the likes of Patterson and Marks. Ahmed admits the running back position was something he never necessarily worked at growing up, but he has been learning so much from playing with all the UB backs, including Theo Anderson and local standouts in Sweet Home’s Dylan McDuffie and Orchard Park’s Solomon Brown.

“Those guys really took me under their wing,” Ahmed said. “They’re like my big brothers. ... And they’re always on me, whether I don’t hold the ball right, whether my steps were wrong. So I’m thankful to have them.”

The former Spartan spent a year up north in Maple territory, playing for Canada’s Prep Academy, who still played schools that were ranked within the top 300 from the United States. Ahmed enjoyed the experience due to the fact that it brought a “higher level of competition” than he saw here in the Buffalo area, particularly against kids who “all had the mindset of going DI.”

Ahmed was also able to reflect on being back on the field with Chase and Bowden again, with the trio helping lead Starpoint to a Class A Sectional final appearance at New Era Field in 2016. He really wanted to acknowledge just how “talented” that ‘16 roster was, finishing the year with a 9-1 overall record. Bowden and Chase were just sophomores that year, but Ahmed feels that the way they “dominated” over the last two years at the high school level, has “earned them the right to play DI.”

Bowden said his first Division I practice was “a lot more intense than high school,” and was happy about how things went on the day. He believes he has an upperhand due to the fact that his high school offensive coordinator, Justin Bauman, ran a very similar playbook.

The 6-foot-4 receiver may be slotted low on the depth chart for now, but he has big plans to keep working his way up until his name is up near the top.

His high school QB got some extra work in with the team’s OC and quarterbacks coach, Jim Zebrowski, after the team’s practice session. For Chase, he “feels good” about finally being back out on the football field and is working on understanding a new playbook and system. He shared how practice was “a lot faster paced than what I’m used to in high school,” but likes the uptick in pace because of how efficiently the team can get things done.

Being the young guy in the QB room, Chase anticipates a lot of learning for the 2019 season. He said he plans to “make the most of my reps when I get them” and soak up as much info as possible.

Coach Leipold also wanted to emphasize just how important it is to build the UB program with homegrown talents like Chase, Bowden and Ahmed. He did his due diligence in trying to “understand the landscape here in Western New York and high school football” and wanted to recruit players that wanted to stick around the Buffalo area for their collegiate careers. He also mentioned that the team had an direct pipeline to keeping an eye on the Starpoint kids with the team’s linebackers coach, Chris Simpson, having a son, Riley, that attended the school with them and was a teammate of theirs as well.

“Having these guys at camp and developing those relationships and wanting those, hopefully it’s a win-win for everyone,” Leipold said. “They’re gonna have a chance to play in front of the hometown fans and hopefully more people from the community will want to come and support these young men in their college careers.”

Contact GNN sports reporter Khari Demos at khari.demos@gnnewspaper.com.