Kenmore West Blue Devils (5-4)
Coach: John Haynes, second year
Home field: Crosby Field
Program founded: 1924
Outlook: The Blue Devils took a step back after going 8-2 in 2015, a year that included a trip to the Ralph, with a 5-4 mark in Class AA North last season. West graduated first-team All-WNY offensive lineman Tyler White and four others that were first-team all-league - running back Errioni Giardina, fullback Cory Ratka, defensive lineman/linebacker George Kaselis and linebacker Jahlel St. John. Giardina and St. John are now playing in college. The remaining standouts from last year’s team are 2016 second-team all-league linebacker Erik Rainey and signal-caller Andrew Fron. Haynes returns five starters on offense and six on defense, so the gaps left by some notable departures may not hurt as badly as it looks at first glance.
Sept. 2 vs. Niagara Falls, 2 p.m.
Sept. 9 vs. Starpoint, 2 p.m.
Sept. 15 at Sweet Home, 7 p.m.
Sept. 22 at North Tonawanda, 7 p.m.
Sept. 28 vs. Williamsville South, 4:30 p.m.
Oct. 7 at Williamsville East, 2 p.m.
Oct. 14 vs. Kenmore East, 2 p.m.
North Tonawanda Lumberjacks (6-3)
Coach: Dan Troy, first season
Home field: George Vetter Stadium
Program founded: 1893
Outlook: On June 27, North Tonawanda head coach Henry Fumerelle was in a serious car accident that will keep him from coaching this year, he told The News. Instead, Troy, who has been around the program, will serve in the interim. North Tonawanda returns six offensive starters and eight defensive ones from its 6-3 team from a year ago. Senior tackle Jordan Holmes, at 6-foot-5 and 272 pounds, leads the group, accompanied by running back/defensive back Sean Ferry and tackles Steve Painter, Trevor Bleakney and Jak Meyer. The Lumberjacks’ sent six 2017 graduates off to college programs but have retooled sufficiently, especially up front on the offensive line. Expect another solid season from North Tonawanda, even under a surprise head coach.
Sept. 1 vs. Sweet Home, 7 p.m.
Sept. 8 at Grand Island, 7 p.m.
Sept. 15 vs. Starpoint, 7 p.m.
Sept. 22 vs. Kenmore West, 7 p.m.
Sept. 28 at Williamsville East, 7 p.m.
Oct. 6 at Kenmore East, 7 p.m.
Oct. 13 vs. Tonawanda, 6 p.m.
Williamsville East Flames (4-5)
Coach: Mike Torrillo, first season
Home field: Williamsville East Field
Program founded: 1975
Outlook: After going winless in 2014, the Flames won three games in 2015. That number rose to four last year, and Torrillo will try and get his team to at least .500 and keep that upward trend going in his first year at the helm. East will be led by wide receiver/defensive back Joe Shifflet, who brings playmaking ability on the outside at 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, running a 4.7-second 40-yard dash. Expect a solid linebacking corps featuring seniors Kevin Steele and Dan Wagner, with Wagner also factoring in as a running back. Shifflet was named first-team offense in the league by coaches last year, and Steele was named first-team defense. Wagner and junior John Moran were named to the second team.
Sept. 1 at Starpoint, 7 p.m.
Sept. 8 at Williamsville North, 7 p.m.
Sept. 15 at Williamsville South, 7 p.m.
Sept. 22 vs. Sweet Home, 7 p.m.
Sept. 28 vs. North Tonawanda, 7 p.m.
Oct. 7 vs. Kenmore West, 2 p.m.
Oct. 13 at Grand Island, 7 p.m.
Sweet Home Panthers (2-6)
Coach: Rich Lowe, first season
Home field: Bob Barczak Stadium
Program founded: 1958
Outlook: After 31 years under John Faller, Sweet Home enters 2017 under the guidance of Lowe, who coached junior varsity for the past 15 seasons. During Faller’s tenure, the Panthers won two state titles, eight sectional championships and 16 division titles, including 11 straight from 2004-14. Since winning a Section VI crown in 2014, the Panthers have gone 4-12 in a two-year playoff drought. Dylan McDuffie returns to the team after playing his junior year at St. Francis. McDuffie, the cousin of Boston College freshman Isaiah McDuffie, started for Sweet Home as a sophomore before transferring. That should inject some life into a program looking to rediscover its winning ways. The Panthers return five starters on each side of the ball, including standout senior running back/linebacker Thomas Rivera.
Sept. 1 at North Tonawanda, 7 p.m.
Sept. 8 at Cheektowaga, 7 p.m.
Sept. 15 vs. Kenmore West, 7 p.m.
Sept. 22 at Williamsville East, 7 p.m.
Sept. 29 vs. Kenmore East, 7 p.m.
Oct. 6 vs. Grand Island, 7 p.m.
Oct. 13 at Williamsville South, 7 p.m.
Williamsville South Billies (5-4)
Coach: Kraig Kurzanski, 10th season
Home field: District Field
Program founded: 1897
Outlook: Josh Foster returns to quarterback the Billies after leading them to a winning record last season. He’ll be flanked by Cody Sanford at wide receiver and protected by 6-foot-4 senior Dan Thomeer and junior Jemelle Jones on the offensive line. South returns only four starters on each side of the ball after losing key contributors Chris Nelson, Antwanne Jones, Travis Porterfield and Ethan Stewart to graduation, but Kurzanski should have enough returning star power on offense to contend. The questions will come on defense, where Thomeer will factor as a defensive end and Sanford as a safety. The Billies lost to McKinley in the first round of the playoffs last season, and it might take a dominant season under center from Foster to get his team back to that point again this year.
Sept. 1 at Clarence, 7 p.m.
Sept. 8 at Kenmore East, 7 p.m.
Sept. 15 vs. Williamsville East, 7 p.m.
Sept. 22 vs. Grand Island, 7 p.m.
Sept. 28 at Kenmore West, 4:30 p.m.
Oct. 6 at Starpoint, 7 p.m.
Oct. 13 vs. Sweet Home, 7 p.m.
Grand Island Vikings (6-3)
Coach: Dean Santorio, 17th season
Home field: Gene Masters Field
Program founded: 1962
Outlook:The Vikings emerged from 4-5 seasons in 2014 and 2015 to improve by two games last year. That jump came on the shoulders of first-team all-league quarterback Conner Buzby, the Class A North offensive player of the year. Grand Island also graduated first-team all-league wideout Will Hughes and first-team all-league defenders JB Wilkes and Zach Valvo. The Vikings return first-team all-league receiver Zane Johnson, who should lead the offense as a dynamic threat on the outside. Grand Island snuck into the playoffs last year on the heels of an explosive offense but lost in the opening round to eventual champions Bennett. The Vikings hope to improve on last season's finish.
Sept. 1 at Kenmore East, 7 p.m.
Sept. 8 vs. North Tonawanda, 7 p.m.
Sept. 15 vs. Niagara-Wheatfield, 7 p.m.
Sept. 22 at Williamsville South, 7 p.m.
Sept. 29 vs. Starpoint, 7 p.m.
Oct. 6 at Sweet Home, 7 p.m.
Oct. 13 vs. Williamsville East, 7 p.m.
Kenmore East Bulldogs (1-8)
Coach: Pat Veltri, third season
Home field: Sparky Adams Field
Program founded: 1959
Outlook: The theme around the Bulldogs’ program that Veltri reiterated was “cautiously optimistic.” East has gone 1-17 the past two seasons, but more so than 2015 and 2016 Veltri feels his group is ready to take the next step forward. He returns seven starters on offense and nine on defense, so the experience is there. Most of the players he’ll rely on to contribute this year have stuck with the program through tough times and know what it’s like to play with a thin roster (24) late in games. Lack of depth will hinder the Bulldogs, but players like two-way lineman Owen Nadrowski, center Ryan Dowd, wideouts Jamichael Henderson and Billy Sauter and quarterback-turned-running back Kahlil O’Neal give East promise heading into 2017.
Sept. 1 vs. Grand Island, 7 p.m.
Sept. 8 vs. Williamsville South, 7 p.m.
Sept. 15 at Amherst, 7 p.m.
Sept. 22 at Starpoint, 7 p.m.
Sept. 29 at Sweet Home, 7 p.m.
Oct. 6 vs. North Tonawanda, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14 at Kenmore West, 2 p.m.
Starpoint Spartans (9-1)
Coach: Al Cavagnaro, 18th season
Home field: Tudor Stadium
Program founded: 1958
Outlook: The Spartans made it to last year’s section title game before a 28-13 loss to Bennett. Cavagnaro’s group lost three influential players to the college game, including league defensive player of the year Tajay Ahmed, but they return eight offensive starters and six on the defensive side. Aaron Chase will lead the offense from under center with Anthony Robinson in the backfield and Mike Parisse paving the way on the offensive line. Robinson and Parisse were both first-team all-league selections last year and Chase was a second-team pick. Another player to watch for is defensive back Sam Mazzara, a junior who coaches slotted on the all-league second team a year ago. Cavagnaro is set up nicely for another deep run in the playoffs.
Sept. 1 vs. Williamsville East, 7 p.m.
Sept. 9 at Kenmore West, 2 p.m.
Sept. 15 at North Tonawanda, 7 p.m.
Sept. 22 vs. Kenmore East, 7 p.m.
Sept. 29 at Grand Island, 7 p.m.
Oct. 6 vs. Williamsville South, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14 at Lockport, 2 p.m.