By MATT PARRINO
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — When Clayton Hess moved from Ohio to Western New York three years ago, he wanted to make an impact on the sports scene at Tonawanda High School.
At 6-foot-4 and with a strong passion for basketball, it made sense he’d make a name for himself on the court. Last season, Hess averaged 14.1 points and 9.6 rebounds per game as a junior for Tonawanda and was named to the News’ all-area second team.
But right now he’s too busy leading the Warriors football team to think about roundball. He’s undertaken a mission set forth by Warriors coach Rob Gross and he’s dedicated himself to it.
“I’m just trying to fit into the program,” Hess said. “Coach has a philosophy that we must protect the tradition (of Tonawanda football) and I’ve tried to take the lead as a captain and play my role.”
Hess is the leader of a 1-5 Warriors team that is trying to recapture a tradition of winning. The squad has competed in almost every game it has been in, but the team has struggled to execute for a full four quarters.
Since he was a youngster, Hess has always been a fierce competitor. He doesn’t quite know where the fire comes from but he hates to lose.
His attitude has endeared him to Gross, who said Hess is a hard worker that is always looking to improve.
“He’s a great leader. He’s matured into his role,” Gross said. “We’ve put him in some tough situations as a sophomore and a junior, but he’s a guy that’s persevered.”
Hess played at tight end his freshman season before Gross asked him to move to quarterback. His size and strength offered his team a distinct advantage: having a quarterback with a big arm who can run like a super-sized fullback.
At first Hess struggled with the transition. Understanding the playbook as a quarterback is different than any other spot on the team because he’s expected to know what everybody else is doing as well, he said.
Hess has come a long way, according to Gross.
“He never flinched, he stayed with it, he’s been consistent, he’s worked hard and he’s done whatever we’ve asked him to do,” Gross said. “It’s great to have that in your quarterback.”
Players that play multiple sports in high school tend to perform better, according to Gross. Hess said he’s able to apply some of the lessons he’s learned playing basketball as a football player.
Gross wishes more students took Hess’s lead.
“I think we need more three-sport athletes. We’re a smaller school and the athletes in our school need to participate,” Gross said. “To be excellent at two or three sports is extremely difficult. The amount of dedication at all levels of any sport is very high.”
Gross said Hess has also earned the respect of his teammates.
“He’s a leader,” Gross said. “When he’s in the huddle, guys listen.”