By Matt Parrino firstname.lastname@example.org
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — At the end of last season, Tonawanda football coach Rob Gross thanked his entire graduating class of seniors for their dedication to the program and the impact they made, which helped the Warriors become a competitive football team.
Now that the Warriors are competitive, Gross thinks the next step will be to start winning the close games.
“I said the first day I got here that I have no timetable (for turning things around), however we’re in a position where now we’re competitive,” he said. “Now that we’re competing we’re in a position to win more games. We’ve been competitive for a while and now we’re in more games at the end and losing by three, six or seven points.
“Now we have tot take the next step toward winning and that can happen when you have a competitive football team. We need to take our close losses and turn those games into wins.”
The Warriors went 1-6 last season, but almost pulled off a huge upset over cross town rival North Tonawanda in the annual T-NT Classic, losing 17-14 after failing to hang on to a halftime lead. Tonawanda will play its first season as a Class C team this season.
Tonawanda kicked off camp this week just like the rest of the teams around Western New York, and Gross said it’s an exciting time for high school athletes.
“It’s always exciting. I saw a coach from UB (Tuesday) morning in line for coffee and I said, ‘This is the time of year where we remember why we love it,’” Gross said. “He nodded his head and agreed. The hours are long, it’s a ton of work but it’s a lot of enjoyment, excitement and urgency.”
For the first week of practice Gross has the junior varsity players working with the varsity team for a good part of each practice. He said it’s always interesting to see how the freshman adjust to the increased pace of practice and responsibility.
“It’s always interesting to see how the freshman adjust — the kids who were eighth graders on modified last year,” Gross said. “Watching the seniors try to duplicate some of the things that we were doing in the offense. It’s enjoyable to watch them when that cliched lightbulb goes on, and see a freshman do something, that that’s the way it’s done and they realize it too. It’s exciting to see the young guys as they start to progress.”
Tonawanda lost a number of proven veterans and big-time contributors, including 2012 News’ Player of the Year and starting quarterback Clayton Hess, Steven Warthling and Tyler Hughes.
But Gross said the returning players began demonstrating leadership back in December and are already showing the new guys how to practice and work hard.
“(This group) leads by example. Weight room attendance was outstanding in the Winter and it was outstanding in the Spring,” Gross said. “We had most of our players show up to the winter passing league at Ralph Wilson Stadium. This is a great group of returning players. They’re dedicated, they work hard and they’re pulling the rest of the program by their example. Everyone else knows what’s expected.”
The Warriors kick off the season against rival J.F.K. on the road Sept. 7. Game time is set for 1:30 p.m.Contact Sports Editor Matt Parrino at 693-1000 ext. 4117 and find Tonawanda News sports on Twitter @tonanewssports.