By Keith McShea
Who’s who: The six-team league includes the Bishop Timon-St. Jude Tigers, Canisius Crusaders, Cardinal O'Hara Hawks, St. Francis Red Raiders, St. Joe's Marauders and St. Mary's Lancers. The Nichols Vikings, who compete in the Monsignor Martin Association in most other sports, are an independent in football.
This year’s alignment shift: While Section VI had tweaks in all 10 of its divisions, the Monsignor Martin lineup remains the same as last year.
Last year's champion: Canisius won its first Monsignor Martin title since 2009 in historic, unbeaten fashion, as its 11-0 season set the school mark for most wins. It was the school’s first unbeaten season since 1976, and the first time since St. Joe’s went 10-0 in 1998 that a Monsignor Martin large school went undefeated. The Crusaders were a unanimous No. 1 in The News large school poll as it won its first poll championship while junior running back Qadree Ollison and senior lineman Ryan Hunter were both named Player of the Year by The Buffalo News.
2012 rewind: The season was enjoyable on several fronts. Foremost was obviously Canisius' excellent season. The Crusaders notched impressive nonleague wins against McKinley at All High Stadium, at Walsh Jesuit in Ohio, and against eventual Section V (Rochester area) Class A champion Aquinas before dominating its league season. St. Joe's matched Canisius with an undefeated start the first six weeks, which included a headline-grabbing win at Aquinas (the Monsignor Martin Association's first win over the Little Irish since 2005), which helped lead to an epic showdown of the rivals that was witnessed by more than 6,000 people despite driving rain at St. Joe's. Ollison ran for a school single-game record 344 yards and scored four TDs as Canisius surged in the second half to win, 28-21. The second-best team in the league proved to be Bishop Timon-St. Jude, which enjoyed a tremendous resurgent season and finished fifth in the large school poll despite losing starting quarterback Ryan Dougherty for much of the season with a knee injury. Timon beat visiting St. Joe's in Week Seven (17-14), its first win over the Marauders since 2002, on a fourth-quarter field goal. Timon also beat St. Joe's in the Monsignor Martin semifinals, 27-10. Canisius fended off a challenge from Timon in the final with Ollison running for 195 yards and three touchdows in a 28-20 season-ending victory.
Last year's records: Canisius 11-0, 5-0; Bishop Timon-St. Jude 6-5, 3-2; St. Joe's 8-3, 3-2; St. Francis 3-8, 2-3; St. Mary's 5-4, 2-3; Cardinal O'Hara 2-8, 0-5. Nichols 6-3 as an independent.
2012 All-Western New York underclassmen: Canisius junior RB Qadree Ollison, St. Joe's junior Rod Payne and Sweet Home sophomore LB Brad Zaffram (transferred to Canisius) were the only three underclassmen on the first team. Bishop Timon-St. Jude juniors RB Adam DiMillo and DL Ryan Byrne, as well as Canisius juniors LB Mike Sharpe and DB Ryan Richards, were on the second team. Named to the third team were St. Joe's junior DB Nigel Davis and St. Mary's junior RB Nick Vallone. Canisius sophomore DB Josh Huffman was an honorable mention.
2012 all-league first-team underclassmen: Canisius juniors DB Ryan Richards and RB Qadree Ollison (Offensive Player of the Year); Bishop Timon-St. Jude juniors RB Adam DiMillo and DL Ryan Byrne; St. Joe's juniors WR Nigel Davis and LB Rodrick Payne; St. Francis junior DL Adam Valenti.
Pre-snap read: Canisius returns a ton of talent from last season's championship team, both in quantity and quality -- but they have become a popular pick as New York's top-ranked team following some high-profile additions. The transfer of first-team All-WNYer Zaffram from Sweet Home in the winter was followed by the summer arrival of TJ (junior) and Terius Wheatley, sons of University of Michigan great and former NFL running back Tyrone Wheatley, who arrived in Western New York with new Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone after he was also on his staff at Syracuse University. TJ Wheatley, SIZE, already has scholarship offers from Alabama and Florida, among several others. Ollison will announce his college destination on Monday from a list of Penn State, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse and Wisconsin. Oh, by the way, other teams play in this league, too. St. Joe's has a pair of outstanding players returning, Timon is looking to build on last year's return to glory, St. Francis almost certainly will improve its record, and St. Mary's had a running back (Vallone) who many teams found tough to tackle last year (including Canisius in a close one early on).
Week One must-see games: With league competition not starting until Week Three, there are the usual early nonleague clashes between MMA teams and top opponents. Two of the best programs to play in Western New York on opening weekend won't be from Western New York: Defending Section V Class AA champion Aquinas is at Bishop Timon-St. Jude Friday night at 7 while St. Anthony's of Long Island is at St. Joe's hosts at 2 p.m. Saturday. On Friday, Canisius opens at Rochester's McQuaid, St. Mary's is at Smethport (Pa.); on Saturday, St. Francis is at Holy Trinity of Long Island. The only matchup between two local teams is the Saturday noon start for Cardinal O'Hara at Nichols.
Scrimmage Saturday: The first day teams could scrimmage other schools was Saturday. Review 28 video highlights at the Prep Talk blog, including several from Canisius lining up against Williamsville South and South Park.
Prep Talk blog at buffalonews.com: Watch exclusive [BN]TheLockerRoom video of Canisius coach Rich Robbins' initial address to his team, look over the entire 2013 week-by-week schedule and watch #preptalkpreseason video interviews with 32 head coaches (with more to come).
Live chats & PrepTalkTV: The first of the weekly Wednesday night live chats will be tonight at 9 p.m. at buffalonews.com. The PrepTalkTV schedule will be released soon.
The countdown concludes: This is the final installment. Already published were: Class AA (Tuesday), A North (Monday), A Central (Sunday), A South (Saturday), B North (Friday), B South (Aug. 29), C North (Aug. 28), C South (Aug. 27), Class D (Aug. 26) and DD (Aug. 25). You can review them all at the Prep Talk blog.
Season preview coming Thursday: The annual preview issue will have capsules and schedules for all 78 teams in Western New York, along with feature stories, a must-see cover and everything else one needs to know about the 2013 season.
Attention coaches & ADs: As soon as they are determined, Section VI coaches need to send a roster — in spreadsheet form — to email@example.com. Monsignor Martin coaches should email rosters to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friday Night Live at buffalonews.com: Every week, the place to monitor all of the Friday night action is BuffaloNews.com and the Prep Talk blog. We will have video reports, photos, live updates from several top games (including play-by-play from our premier matchup of the night) and you will again be a part of the team via Twitter: Tweet game updates with the #preptalkscores hashtag and those will appear in our live blog.