By David Yarger
The calendar has turned to September, and that means one thing: high school football has returned.
The 2019 Niagara-Wheatfield Falcons football schedule will open tonight with a rematch of last year’s home opener versus North Tonawanda. This year, though, the Falcons will begin on the road – on the turf of the Lumberjacks.
Last season, the Falcons clobbered the Jacks, 48-0, behind a huge offensive day from – at the time – seniors Jordan Parks, Nick Stott, Noah Mixon and Tommy Peltier, to name a few.
The quartet will not be around for this year’s battle, as the Falcons graduated a whopping 23 seniors from 2018’s 6-3, Funke Bowl victorious team.
As with every year, teams see turnover in their respective rosters. N-W coach Russ Nixon refused to call 2019 a rebuilding year, but, more or less, a reloading year. He mentioned that several teams around Section VI are dealing with the same roster changes as the Falcons.
“A lot of teams are going through it right now,” Nixon said. “We have a lot of juniors who, I feel, are further ahead than maybe juniors three years ago. … Juniors and seniors now have seen our system and have gotten used to things and have adapted.”
Coming off a 6-3 season, one of the Falcons’ best in 10-plus years, Nixon said, even though, it was a tremendous season, the team must move on and face the present.
“It’s not that hard. It was a great season, but we have to put it behind us and gear up for the next,” Nixon said.
He added, “I’m excited to see new guys step on the field and get that chance. Seniors and juniors have been like sponges. When they make a mistake they learn from them and understand what went wrong. I tell my guys that that’s life. I make mistakes, but I try and learn from them on a daily basis. They’ve embraced that and keep saying ‘Let’s learn,’ and there’s value in that.”
Nixon spoke about leadership on his team and two names he mentioned were seniors Chris Gordon III and Griffin Cornwell. The coach praised the duo highly, as Gordon will be under center week one at quarterback and Cornwell will man the middle of the Falcons’ defense at linebacker.
Gordon and Cornwell have experience in the Falcons system. The QB they sometimes call “Gordo” or “Gordy” has been with the team since his sophomore year.
Nixon said, “Gordy had quality reps last year as a junior, and his stats, in split time with Jordan (Parks), equaled some kids’ whole junior seasons with full reps. … His confidence has increased for sure. You know he was capable as a QB last year and led us on some drives for points, but this year he has the confidence and he did the work to build it. And the job wasn’t handed to him.”
Nixon remarked that Gordon had a battle from quarterback Evan Stickney, but after an injury to Stickney, Gordon took over all the reps in camp during the summer.
“There was competition all summer,” Nixon said. “They pushed each other and Chris embraced the competition and worked for it.”
Of the captain of the defense Cornwell, Nixon said, “He’s comfortable setting up the defense and Griffin understands what’s going on and he can put guys in the right spot.”
The Falcons have also had a steady rushing offense the past few seasons, and that has started with steady play from the offensive line. Nixon said the line has two returners for the season, including junior center Anthony Lucinski. He added that the returners have helped the new guys get acclimated to their new roles as starters on varsity.
In addition to new faces on the roster, some have looked at the Falcons roster and counted them out after losing several key talents from last season. Nixon reiterated: If people don’t believe in them, come see the team play.
“Come watch the games. I’d tell anyone who doesn’t think we’re capable to come watch. We graduated a large senior class and those seniors understood in their second or third year of varsity action what the system was. This year, we have guys that have been in the system three to four years and know how we run things. Some may be playing against bigger, stronger and faster competition now, but they’re capable of doing it,” Nixon said.
Of the first battle versus North Tonawanda, Nixon understood it would be a battle with limited time.
“It’s a short week and there’s not a lot of film out there to prepare,” he said. “I just expect us to go out there and execute our game plan. It’s a new year with new names. The players we have back have been great so far leading us.”
The Falcons’ battle at North Tonawanda is at 7 p.m. tonight.