Scrimmage Saturday meant the first football event at the new Niagara Falls High School Recreation and Athletic Complex. The $18 million facility includes a track, a bright, digital scoreboard, seating for about 2,000 and all-weather synthetic turf.
There aren’t any lights at the complex (no night games folks), but it is equipped with wiring to add them if funding allows.
The complex includes a building that houses a separate weight room, wrestling room, two locker rooms equipped with smart boards so teams can view video at halftime, an officials room and a concession stand equipped with a kitchen. The complex is technically behind the high school even though the best way to access the facility is through the school’s softball complex entrance off Pine Avenue.
“It’s more than what we hoped for,” Falls athletic director John Forcucci said. “We’ve seen in the spring, when we started with our baseball and lacrosse teams, the students coming right out of the high school to see their classmates play. It was more of a campus feel.”
Which is what Falls is trying to create.
“We have the ability to broadcast games live here through our school television station, Educational Access (OSC 21),” said Falls deputy schools superintendent Mark Laurrie.
Laurrie said the school is already experiencing a boost from the facility, which debuted last spring with girls lacrosse and baseball played there. All sports participation numbers have been up. Football had at least 100 try out for varsity and junior varsity, which is higher than usual; and boys and girls soccer teams made cuts for the first time.
“It helps me and the district not to manage two sites,” Forcucci said of not having to oversee and set up Sal Maglie Stadium for school events. “We have practices and games going on at one facility. It ties everything together.”
Falls’ varsity is on the road the first two weeks of the season, which means the JV will get to play the first two games of the regular-season in the new complex. Varsity’s home opener is in Week Three against Williamsville North.
Highlights from the scrimmage, which included Depew, Williamsville East and Maple Grove: Falls’ Jaquan Hudson caught a 35-yard touchdown in the back of the end zone from Lomax Barnes versus Maple Grove. Nick Perrine bounced it outside and rushed for a nice 33-yard score for Depew against Williamsville East.
The most common sight at the different scrimmage locations – besides players enjoying hitting opposing players for the first time this season – was the men in the striped shirts holding court at midfield before the start of each workout.
It was there where the head referees reminded all of the players and coaches of different rule changes, including the definition of targeting.
In an attempt to reduce head injuries/concussions in the most popular sport in America, targeting is now defined as an act in which a player takes aim at an opponent with his helmet, arm, shoulder, elbow or hand and initiates contact with the opponent above the shoulders. Targeting, regardless of intent, is a 15-yard personal foul penalty.
When a player’s forward progress is held up, would-be tacklers need to be careful, too, because the days of trying to deliver the train-wreck hit to force a fumble also are over. If a referee believes a tackler targeted a defenseless player, a personal foul penalty will called.
Western New York coaches seem to be ahead of the game on this as they work on technique daily during station drills at practice.
“We want them to lead with their shoulder right between the numbers in the midsection,” Bennett coach Stevie McDuffie said, adding that his team has spent parts of their morning practice session working on angle-tackling fundamentals.
“It’s football, but at the same time safety is of the utmost importance,” Hamburg coach Pat Cauley said, noting that neither the Bulldogs, Jamestown, Fredonia or East Aurora/Holland were flagged for targeting during their four-way battle at Howe Field. “As coaches we’re constantly monitoring technique and our equipment. You walk a fine line with all of them because you want your kids to play hard, aggressive football. We’re aware of the modification of the rules and we’re just trying to teach accordingly.”
Canisius High senior T.J. Wheatley is keeping cool about the important decision he will have to make by National Signing Day, Feb. 4. The All-WNY First Team pick has five major Division I programs pursuing his services in Alabama, Michigan, Miami (Fla.), USC and UCLA.
“They’re all amazing,” he said following the Crusaders’ scrimmage Saturday at Canisius’ Stransky Complex. “They all have great facilities and are great schools. It’ll be nice to make a decision before the end of the season or before the start of basketball season. If it’s not until signing day, it’ll be signing day.”
Regarding his little brother Terius, who now plays for Orchard Park and recently took part in the Quakers’ scrimmage: “He looked pretty good,” T.J. said. “He’s excited. They’ve got him doing everything. Hopefully, I’ll be able to catch some of his Friday night games.”