By ERIC KEPPELER
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — Last football season was not an easy one for Kenmore East quarterback Connor McMahon.
As just a sophomore, he started every game for the varsity Bulldogs — and he took a physical pounding as East went winless.
Now a year older and wiser, McMahon has parlayed some of last year’s frustration into a measure of success on the field.
“The experience is huge,” McMahon said. “I’m working with a lot of guys from last year, and just knowing them and their tendencies helps a lot. Playing as much as I did – it was a great help for me now.”
Through four games this season, the Bulldogs are 1-3 and have picked up their first home win since the 2008 season, after a 21-0 win over Niagara-Wheatfield in the third week of the season.
East was also competitive in losses to Grand Island (26-14) and North Tonawanda (31-28), and outclassed by state powerhouse Sweet Home (41-6).
“We all took last season’s disappointment and turned it into motivation to work harder,” McMahon said. “We don’t just want to be good – we want to be the best. Even the atmosphere in the locker room is different – we expect to do well. The seniors are great role models for us, on and off the field.”
His numbers have been solid this season, completing 24 of 45 passes for 352 yards and five touchdowns. He’s also run the ball 23 times for 92 yards and another pair of scores.
“We took a lot of lumps last year,” Kenmore East coach Matt Chimera said. “He took a lot of lumps, but he kept coming back. I don’t think he missed a snap last year – he’s a tough, hard-nosed kid. That year is paying off. We have a young team right now, and he’s a big part of the leadership of this group.”
McMahon has the added benefit of now playing with several members of a junior varsity squad that posted a winning record last season. He played with many of them previously as a freshman on the JV squad before making the jump last season.
An extra year of maturity and work in the weight room hasn’t hurt, either.
“Physically, I’m way stronger than I was last year,” McMahon said. “I’ve got my timing down, and I was ready to go on day one. I didn’t have to figure out what was expected of me – I knew right off the bat. The team is what’s important, not just you.”
The Bulldogs are pleased with the improvement they’ve already seen over last season, but all of the players and coaches understand that much work remains to be done.
And it starts with the young man under center.
“He needs to be more consistent throwing the ball, but that’s getting better with experience. His leadership on the field is good, but we need him to take this team over,” Chimera said. “He’s confident, and we want him to be ever more so.”
As students of history among other things, the players know that Rome wasn’t built in a day.
The Bulldogs understand that they’re not world-beaters – at least not yet – but they feel they’re heading in the right direction.
“For this to be a successful season, I want to be able to say that we gave it all we had,” McMahon said. “Not just in the games, but also on the practice field and in the classrooms. Hard work pays off – it’s as simple as that.”