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South Park begins defense of state football title

The South Park High School football team returned to reality on Monday morning.

After an offseason that seemed like one long celebration of its state football championship - the first by a Buffalo school - it was back to work at Mulroy Park in South Buffalo for Coach Tim Delaney, the rest of his coaching staff, and more than 30 varsity players.

"Now we can focus on the 2016 season," Delaney said. "We're excited about starting today. The kids that played last year all have high expectations of playing well as a team."

Yet it's not that easy to turn the page of a season that will stay with the team for the rest of their lives.

"It still seems unreal," said Elijah Winston, a senior linebacker and tight end. "I don't know if it completely hit me until today. It's a wonderful feeling."

"It meant a lot, to my family and all," said Nick Schaefer, a linebacker/fullback. "My brother played for Coach Delaney. I'd go to the store, and people would see the ring and say, 'Oh, state champs.' Everyone knows about it. It's a nice feeling, a great feeling."

For Delaney, the time since the Sparks won the state championship last November has followed the usual pattern when it comes to football. Players hit the weight room, went through seven-on-seven drills, and took part in contact camps. But he also spent plenty of time taking bows as the team received recognition from a variety of sources.

What's more, the applause for that team will never really stop. Its members always will be a part of the team that made a little football history locally, and that means reunions of that particular squad will take place for years to come.

"No matter if we win another one this year, or in 10 years, or never win one again, or if another Buffalo public school wins one - and a number of programs are on the upswing - there will only be one team that will do it first," Delaney said. "That's obviously exciting. It validates everything we've done over eight seasons. I think the guys realize a little bit of that, just how big everything was."

When asked if he had been reminded of the state title every day since late November, he said, "Pretty much. Obviously that's a great thing. It should drive not only myself and the coaching staff but the kids. It should remind them to not be complacent, to get back to the Ralph or New Era Stadium or whatever will be called. We want to go deep into the playoffs and try to play in the state playoffs again. The kids that were here know what it takes. We kind of have to build up to that."

Many of the players had spent portions of their summer preparing for this particular day.

"The offseason was a lot of hard work - a lot of time in the weight room, a lot of drills - to prepare for this," said Andre Walker, a senior lineman.

"I've been trying to get better," said Jeremiah Sanders, a junior tackle. "I went to a couple of camps this summer."

"I've been working on my lateral speed and quickness," Winston said. "I also want to be stronger."

The Day One task for the coaches on Monday matched what every other staff in Western New York was doing. They were interested in seeing who showed up, what sort of shape they were in, and where the pieces of a brand new jigsaw puzzle of a roster might fit together.

"It's surprising sometimes to see a junior that didn't play much the year before, see what kind of shape he's in now, and what kind of growth spurt he had as a senior," Delaney said. "We had a few of those kids. We had a couple of kids transfer in. They have to find spots to fit in.

"The team's going to be a bit different. We don't have as many fast, dynamic kids as we had. Our passing game won't be the game. Every year is a little bit different."

The first practice means that the countdown to the first game has started. South Park will open with St. Joe's, and Delaney can hear the clock ticking down toward that opening kickoff.

"It will be here in a snap," he said. "I was talking to someone at a golf course a couple of days ago, and I said before you know it, we'll be lined up on Sept. 2."

email: bbailey@buffnews.com

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