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RECORD PASSER Junior QB has plenty of help

Williamsville South football coach Kraig Kurzanski doesn't want to call it a perfect storm.

What would you call it?

The coach has a core group of players who have been basketball teammates for years, some since fourth grade, and they've taken their moving-without-the-ball chemistry that has put them in two straight sectional hoop finals and replicated it on the football field.

Two of those players are juniors who grew up around the corner from each other, playing catch since they were 5 years old.

One has become the Billies' quarterback. And you should see him throw it now.

Joe Licata is putting up some of the best passing numbers in Western New York history, and his junior season is only four games old.

"His decision-making ability is better than I've ever seen, his arm is terrific and he makes all the throws on the field," said Kurzanski. "We have a good crop of receivers with him, which make him even better. I don't want to use the word 'perfect storm,' but we have good players, with a great quarterback, and a pretty good offensive line."

Ask the Billies about the numbers that Licata is putting up in their spread formation, and they run a different kind of spread. The linemen say the quarterback keeps his calm and the wide receivers run great routes. The receivers say the quarterback is delivering the ball in the perfect spot with near-perfect consistency. The quarterback lauds the line for giving him the time.

Which brings us back to the line.

"We expected to pass a lot, but I don't think we expected anything like these records," said senior lineman Kevin Gerlach. "Every week he's breaking a record or setting a record -- and good for him."

The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Licata began the season by breaking a 39-year-old school mark with 377 passing yards in the Billies' statement win at Grand Island. In Week Three he set a Western New York record with 492 yards against Williamsville North, the third-best effort in state history.

With three regular season games plus at least one playoff game to play, the Billies are ranked fifth among large schools and Licata's numbers are on track to approach Western New York single season records for passing touchdowns (35) and passing yardage (2,408).

"If it happens, it happens," Licata said of the totals he has been putting up. "If we win and I have to put up numbers, then it happens. It's a team game. It's not all about me, it's about our guys. I'm nothing without my line, and I have some of the best wide receivers in Western New York."

Licata, who threw for 1,900 yards last year despite missing his final two games due to injury, also could surpass the Western New York single-season marks for passes thrown and completed. They were both established in 2008 by Paul Smith of Niagara-Wheatfield, who was 169 for 297.

"We knew we were going to throw the ball a little bit," Kurzanski understated. "We're trying to be 2-to-1 pass-to-run, and we had no problem turning over the keys to a talented kid."

Licata's top receivers/basketball teammates are junior Phil Stasiak, senior Mark Coppola (the point guard who was a second-team All-Western New York selection last year) and junior Kevin O'Connell. "We know where each other is going to be, and we know how everyone reacts to situations," said O'Connell. "We know who can step up when and who plays where and everything -- we read each other really well."

Stasiak is the round-the-corner neighbor, and the two play like it. His quarterback has a feel for where Stasiak is, and when the 6-3, 180-pounder catches it, he's tough to take down.

"If he's covered, I'll throw the ball where I want him to go and he'll know, too," said Licata. "I trust him."

Coppola spends the winter distributing the ball to three-point bombers Licata, Stasiak and O'Connell. "Joe's amazing," said Coppola. "I don't have to do anything, he puts it right there. . . . We always joke around that if you don't give me the ball during football, I'm not going to give it to you during basketball."

Coaches have admired Licata's footwork, which has improved thanks in part to weekly sessions with former St. Francis and Navy standout Jim Kubiak.

"He's the real deal," said Grand Island coach Dean Santorio. "He has a bright future ahead of him, because he's going to be looked at [by colleges]."

After attending a quarterback camp at Notre Dame in June, Licata caught the attention of the Fighting Irish so much that they welcomed him on campus for an unofficial visit on Sept. 19. He toured the campus and facilities, met coach Charlie Weis, walked on the field prior to the Irish's win over Michigan State, had second-row seats for the game and met players in the locker room afterward.

"They really liked him [at the quarterback camp] and made him one of the six or seven quarterbacks that they were going to recruit," said Kurzanski.

Penn State has also sent letters, while Licata's grades are so good that Harvard has called.

Asked about how it feels to have colleges calling, Licata passed on the future talk and checked down to the present.

"First we work for winning a sectional championship, which we haven't done yet," he said. "We haven't accomplished anything yet. We're just trying to take it one game at a time, colleges will come down the road."


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