Jerry Smith is no stranger to players transferring into his program, but these weren't your typical prospects.
The St. Francis football coach was actually being duped by two players from North Tonawanda High School posing as transfers from Texas in an attempt to learn more about the Red Raiders' offseason training methods.
The need to get up close and personal has its roots in St. Francis playing North Tonawanda in Week One of the upcoming season. In the last five years there has only been one game between the Section VI Federation and the Monsignor Martin AA league: a 21-18 win by Timon/St. Jude over Niagara-Wheatfield in 2003.
Practices open across Western New York on Aug. 13. North Tonawanda will host St. Francis on Aug. 31 at 7 p.m.
St. Francis and NT are two of Western New York's most successful programs. St. Francis has reached the League AA title game for five straight years while the Jacks have qualified for the Federation playoffs the last five years.
"They were good," said Smith, who never suspected a thing. "They presented themselves like they were moving in from Texas and their mother was home selling the house, and their father had been transferred here. They were just checking out some schools and they would finalize things later."
The two NT players, who are projected starters, and a third boy they said was a cousin along for the visit, used their real first names and fictitious last names during their day on the Athol Springs campus.
They went through the initial phase of admission, took a tour of the facilities and eventually met with Smith, a coach who they knew had produced a long list of accomplished high school and college players.
"I regret it. It's in the past. I'm looking forward to Week One," said one of the players, who asked not to be identified.
The players' plans quickly unraveled when NT football coaches learned of the scheme from other players.
"A couple kids weren't thinking real straight," said NT head coach Eric Jantzi. "It was a little out of character for what we do, and hopefully they've made things right. They wanted to see how hard St. Francis was working. That was their rationale. They came back and said, 'they're working harder than we are.' ."
Jantzi said at his urging the players were on their way back to St. Francis within 48 hours to apologize to Smith in person. Smith was stunned by their admission.
"I asked them, 'who put you up to this and why,' and they said they were standing around one day and said, 'I wonder what St. Francis is doing, let's go check it out.' They were three kids who did a stupid thing," said Smith. "I give Eric a lot of credit. As soon as he found out, he made them accountable."