By Sam Wilson
The Franklinville/Ellicottville football team’s then-undefeated season ended in November at New Era Field, but as it turned out, the Titans’ coaches weren’t done yet with six seniors.
F/E coach Chad Bartoszek and staff got one more summer with six recent graduates from a senior class he refers to as “the first Titans,” as they entered high school as freshmen in the first year of the Franklinville/ Ellicottville varsity and junior varsity football merger. Those six — quarterback Brock Blecha, running back Griffin Chudy, wide receiver Austin Grinols, defensive tackle Walter Woodarek, defensive end Dakota Olson and cornerback Deric Leiper — are all set to play in Saturday’s 45th Big 30 All-Star Charities Classic, formerly the Don Raabe Charities Classic, in Bradford, Pa.
For Bartoszek, who will coach his sixth season (fifth under the merger) this fall, the timing couldn’t be better to serve as New York’s head coach for the first time.
“They’re all doing a great job,” Bartoszek said of the six Titans. “It’s been cool to have them one more game.”
Bartoszek coaches the NY offense, while assistant Mark Blecha handles the defense. Fellow F/E assistants Harley Butler and Jason Marsh, the former Salamanca head coach, help with the lines and Aaron Hill, a former SHS assistant who works for USA Football, helps the defensive backs.
Bartoszek said the chance for coaches to work in groups who only play one way (only offense or defense) has been the greatest unexpected benefit in his first practices with the team. But teaching terminology has been the biggest challenge so far.
Brock Blecha and Frewsburg quarterback Trent Gray will lead the two offensive units, which typically alternate every other series under the Big 30 format. F/E’s Big 30 representatives essentially got a four-year head start on the playbook for Saturday’s game, while the rest of the roster learned the Titans’ terminology.
“Having Brock and a couple of our Titan guys there makes things easier,” Bartoszek said after practice Friday, July 27, in Salamanca. “They’re able to help the others and they’re able to jump right in. It’s second nature for them. But Trent Gray is capable. He’s going to be
He’s going to be running his own group, running his own team and he’s definitely stepping up. It’s just I feel for those new guys that have got to go through this all over again and re-learn things in two weeks. We’re trying to be patient but we’re moving at a really quick pace as coaches.”
Gray, the son of longtime Frewsburg coach Terry Gray, who led the New York squad for the 2014 Big 30 game, played his senior year in the new Randolph/Frewsburg merger.
“I’m real proud of the way that Trent’s handling it,” Bartoszek said, “because he has the toughest position of anyone on the team right now because he has to run as a quarterback in a brand new offense and he has to know everything. All the other players have to know a little bit, but he’s gotten everything. And he’s handling it like someone who’s got a job to do.”
Bartoszek liked what he saw when he first met the team for Big 30 Media Day in May and that’s translated through two-plus weeks of practice.
“It’s a fun group,” he said. “We have athletes all over the place. We’re getting a little thinner in terms of our numbers, we’ve lost a few guys, but overall, a real fun group, coachable group. We’ve been having a good time at practice, competing. I still don’t think the realization that we’re going to play a game here in a week has hit them yet, but I think maybe next week they’ll start to realize it’s about time to go.”
Salamanca will have two representatives in the NY roster, wide receiver Nick Johnson and linebacker Braden Siebert.
From Cattaraugus-Little Valley are four players: wide receiver Austin Baker, guard Andrew Minnekine and defensive ends Scott O’Donnell and Tim Ulinger.
For one game, groups of former high school rivals join together on Saturday looking to take back a victory against Pennsylvania’s seniors.
“The guys are having fun together, I know that,” Bartoszek said. “It’s cool to go to these different schools, get meals, do all that stuff. I do know you can just see it, guys who work all day in the heat and then they’ve got to drive to practice. Some of these days can get long on them just like it is for the coaches. So we’ve had a couple dog days here where you can tell the kids are doggin’ it, they’re all working and doing different things. But they’re coming together, though: football brings you together.”
Other notes on Saturday’s game:
• Saturday’s festivities begin with the annual Big 30 parade at 2:30 p.m. through Bradford, starting on Davis Street then proceed down Main Street to Mechanic Street. A tailgate party begins at 3:30 in the Parkway Field lot, gates open at 5 and kickoff at 7. Tickets are $7 for all.
— Pennsylvania referees are set to work this game, as the crew alternates each year with New York. Pennsylvania will also be the home team, on the press box side of the field, after winning last year’s game.
• No alcohol or tobacco will be permitted on school grounds, including the parking lot and Callahan Park.
• Advance tickets are available at Man’s World and Northwest Savings Bank, both are on Main Street in downtown Bradford. Members of the Big 30 committee will also have tickets for sale.