Tonawanda News — When Tonawanda's Clayton Hess thinks back to this year's T-NT game, there is a brief pause. His eyes go empty as he's transported back to the painful moments following a 17-14, heartbreaking defeat against North Tonawanda — the 13th straight loss in the series for the Warriors.
The 6-foot-4, 230-pound quarterback's eyes then start to well up with tears as he searches for the words to describe the feelings that followed the final whistle.
"It's hard to talk about because it's so disturbing," he said after a few seconds. "I couldn't believe it at first. … It was just a mess after that. I think it kind of devastated our community — us players carry a burden on our shoulders knowing we could have won that game."
The tears he's cried are not for himself, they are for the teammates he lined up with on Fridays and Saturdays and for a town that has supported and cheered for him on the gridiron.
Hess's stats speak for themselves but his role as the leader of the Warriors and his dedication to his team and community is why he is this season's Tonawanda News Player of the Year.
The Warriors only won two games this season, but in a super-competitive Class B West they were in every single game. Hess shined on most nights, finishing with 1,372 total yards and 18 total touchdowns — nine rushing, eight passing and even one receiving.
The two-sport athlete — Hess is the captain of the Warriors basketball team — was an all-around contributor on the football field, making 16 tackles from his free safety position and recording three interceptions.
"Clayton has been somebody that's been able to take previous information and build on it," said Warriors coach Rob Gross. "We've been able to throw more and more at him so by the end of his senior year he was in a position to makes plays. He gave us an opportunity to build on what he was already able to do."