It's a nice time to be a football player in Kenmore. It's an even nicer time to be Jerry Tutwiler.
Tutwiler, who will retire at the end of this, his 32nd year at Kenmore West, so he can watch his children compete in college sports, is enjoying his final go-round with his football clan.
Tutwiler and Kenmore West are off to a 4-0 start, but some members of his extended football family are doing just as well across town.
That's right -- halfway through the high school football season, Kenmore West and Kenmore East are both undefeated and ranked in the top five of the News large school poll. Last year, West went 3-5 while East was 2-6.
Kenmore West hasn't been 4-0 since 1986, and Kenmore East hasn't been 4-0 since 1977. But both teams 4-0 in the same season? No one in town could remember the last time both were 3-0.
"It's been a great positive for the district," said Kenmore schools athletic director Brett Banker. "Football is one of those focus sports and it's important to get the school year off to a positive start -- it builds school spirit."
While it's the final season for Tutwiler, it is the first season at Kenmore East for one of his coaching offspring. Matt Chimera played for Tutwiler and coached under him for 14 years.
"Basically everything I learned about football, I learned from Jerry," said Chimera. "This season has been unbelievable. People have been stopping me and saying things to me -- I didn't think they followed football and they're giving me their best wishes. People are coming out of the woodwork.
"I was talking to Jerry the other day about it and we both said how because we're both winning, it's fun to go to practice. Everyone's enjoying it. It's a feeling that hasn't been around for quite a while."
A one-time retirement incentive and the chance to watch his son, J.J., play quarterback at Cortland State and daughter, Alicia, swim at Buffalo State led to Tutwiler's decision to retire at the end of the school year. Tutwiler stepped away from his Kenmore West head coaching duties the last two seasons (Rich Harris coached in his absence), to enable him to follow J.J.'s progress at Grand Island.
"With what (the district) is offering, and with my family situation, it seemed like a good time to do this," said the 54-year-old Tutwiler, a physical education teacher. "I still love teaching and coaching. I haven't lost any zeal, I just want to watch my kids. It's just a good point of time for me."
His players want to make his final season even better.
"It's the last year Coach 'Tut' is coaching, and we're trying to do something for him -- not only for ourselves but for him, too," said senior running back Scott Haynes, a team captain. "At practice the other day he pulled out a letter from an alumnus -- congratulating him on doing so well this season. It sent chills through the whole team. So many people are watching us."
Haynes is part of a Blue Devil team loaded with senior skill players: quarterback Justin Cicatello, tight ends Jason Rogers and Ray Hayward, running backs Matt Daniels, Mike Dunn and Gary Todaro, split ends Brian Lipinoga and Mark Swanekamp and kicker Allen Gale.
Kenmore West's question mark was its offensive line, but it's proven itself in quality wins over Lockport, Williamsville North, Clarence and Niagara Falls.
"We're sort of on a parallel right now, the team and I," said Tutwiler. "The seniors want to make their mark, and I'm doing that as a coach. I want to enjoy and savor every minute.
"They're so focused on football -- I've been more of a storyteller," said Tutwiler, "trying to remind them of things that other teams have done right or wrong. This is the most fun I've had with a team -- aside from the wins and losses. All the expectations, they've met, and you don't get that with every team."
Kenmore West, which hosts Lew-Port on Saturday in its homecoming game, has already clinched a playoff spot because all of its victories have come against Division I North foes. Either second-place Clarence (2-1) or third-place Williamsville North (1-1) will have two losses after the teams meet Oct. 7.
West completes its division schedule that same day against tough North Tonawanda, then travels to West Seneca West before what should be an extra-intriguing finale at its crosstown rival on Oct. 21.
Tutwiler remembers a crowd of 12,000 at East-West games in the '60s. Chimera said he played before crowds of 7,000 in the '70s.
"If things go the way they're going, it would be nice to have both teams undefeated going into the last game," said Tutwiler. "As far as getting a lot of fans out there, it hasn't been the kind of turnout it was in those earlier years. It's been a big rivalry, but one team or the other has been up or down."
For Kenmore East, a halftime deficit in its opener against Hamburg seemed to spark its success.
"We were down, 14-3, and I don't know what happened but we played great in the second half," Chimera said of what became a 17-14 victory. "That kind of catapulted us."
The Bulldogs have added road wins over Sweet Home, Niagara-Wheatfield and Lew-Port since then, thanks in large part to the strong running of juniors Paul DeSantis and Aaron Robinson behind senior fullback Tom Diehl. Sophomore Chris Hurysz (6-foot-7, 220 pounds) lines up at tight end and is a force on defense, and East has a solid kicker in senior Marc Menchetti.
"The program's been down for quite a while -- the wins that we had got, we struggled for," said Chimera, who moved up after assisting under Mike Christman, another former Tutwiler assistant who stepped down so he could watch his son play at Sweet Home. "In close games, good teams come up with a fumble, a big stop, a big play -- but now things seem to be turning around a bit."
East hosts Grand Island on Saturday in what may decide the Division II race. Both teams are 3-0 in division play with surprising Amherst sitting in second at 2-1. East hosts Iroquois next week, then plays Amherst at UB before its showdown with West.
The Kenmore teams aren't the only ones that have gone from rough 1999s to super 2000s. Here's a look at other teams that have reversed their field:
Young Iroquois charges ahead
The coach and many of the players who recorded back-to-back undefeated JV seasons the past two years have meshed with some gritty seniors to push Iroquois to a 4-0 start.
"We just came in with the philosophy to pull together," said first-year coach Frank Payne, whose team is 2-0 in Division III after going 3-5 overall last season. "A team is a great thing to be a part of -- we've got 40 guys who are playing as one."
Wins over East Aurora, Hamburg, Lake Shore and West Seneca East have already assured the Chiefs of their best season since 1989.
Section VI 275-pound wrestling champion Matt Keem bolsters things inside, while fellow senior Nick Weatherbee is a constant threat to connect with junior quarterback John Jimenez. Jimenez, Weatherbee and junior defensive back Jon Jarnot were all members of last year's Section VI Class B champion basketball team.
Sophomore Doug Blakowski is a 100-yard rushing threat each game, while junior backfield mate Damianos Skaros is another dangerous runner.
The running game provides a nice balance for the passing attack led by Jimenez, who had two back-to-back 1,000-yard passing seasons on JV.
"He's got a great arm and a great mind for the game," said Payne. "He's so poised for a junior. Teams scout us and see that we throw, so they bring heat like crazy. But he just stands in there and hits the weapons we have."
This weekend's showdown at powerful Pioneer begins a bear of a second half for the Chiefs that continues at Kenmore East, vs. Williamsville South and at Williamsville East.
New Frontiers at Riverside
Riverside was a Harvard Cup bottom-feeder last season at 2-7, but the Frontiers gobbled up defending champion McKinley on Saturday, halting the Macks' 12-game winning streak. Riverside's gutsy, 8-2 victory ended what had been the third-longest run in the state.
Rodney Franklin scored the touchdown for Riverside, which fought off McKinley despite being pinned in their own end for much of the second half, including stopping the Macks on a first-and-goal from the 5 with less than four minutes to play. Riverside (2-0) opened its season with a 10-0 defeat of Kensington.
Five more turnarounds
West Seneca West was 2-5 in Division I last year but began the season 3-0 by outscoring opponents, 103-40. The Indians were ranked fourth among large schools before a 14-7 loss at Lancaster last weekend. Their second half will be a test: league games at Hamburg and vs. Jamestown are followed by games vs. Kenmore West and at rival West Seneca East.
Cassadaga Valley went 3-5 last year, but has started 4-0 and its 3-0 Division VII mark has it tied with mighty Salamanca, the fifth-ranked Class C team in the state. The Cougars halted the headline-grabbing of Allegany-Limestone with a 21-0 rout this past weekend, limiting A-L running back Anthony Jeffries (of the two six-TD games) to just 74 yards. A season finale at Salamanca awaits.
Ellicottville is one of a trio of teams that has flipped Division VIII upside down, forgetting bottom-half finishes to start the season with identical 4-0, 2-0 records. The Eagles (4-5 last year) made a statement in Week One by edging Clymer, then added a win at defending division champ Forestville two weeks later.
Pine Valley went 3-6 last year but has outscored its opposition by an astounding 93-6 so far.
Franklinville is the third team sharing the top spot in a crazy Division VIII that will have an even crazier finish: Ellicottville, Pine Valley and Franklinville (2-6 in 1999) all face each other over the season's final three weeks. With Clymer and Maple Grove battling it out over in Division IX, the section's Class D representative figures to be a very strong one come state playoff time.