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Under new leadership; Big names from big schools move on

Not all of the new faces on Monday's first day of football practice were wearing helmets.

There were plenty of new coaches as well. Western New York typically sees 10-12 coaching changes per year. This year's turnover was no different with 10 changes at the top, but many were top coaches from top teams.

The area's 82 football teams kicked off the 2011 season under overcast skies. Teams practice in helmets the first two days, shoulder pads the next three and can go live on Saturday.

Longtime JV coach Mark Layer takes over the defending Class AA champions from Clarence -- replacing the retired Tom Goddard, last year's WNY Coach of the Year.

One year removed from a 13-0 campaign and the Class AA New York State championship, Eric Jantzi ended his 11-year career at North Tonawanda. Rick Tomm takes over the Jacks.

Frank Payne's resume in 12 seasons at Iroquois included seven appearances at Ralph Wilson Stadium, two Class A titles and an impressive 73-29 record. He stepped down and was replaced by Keith Marshall. Payne is now coaching the freshmen at Clarence.

Adam Tardif, who played for Lackawanna under coach Bill Pukalo in 1991 and 1992, is the new Steelers coach. After graduating from the University at Buffalo, he was hired by his high school alma mater as a biology and physics teacher. He succeeds Bruce Lakso, who stepped down to watch his son and daughter compete athletically.

The Monsignor Martin Association has new coaches at Canisius, Timon/St. Jude and Niagara Catholic.

Charlie Comerford, a two-time all-WNY pick before graduating from Timon in 2001, takes over for Al Monaco. After four seasons Brandon Harris has left Canisius and was replaced by Rich Robbins. After 18 seasons, Don Marinucci stepped down at Niagara Catholic in favor of Chris Nelson.

Tim Hagerty takes over for Dave Hack at Niagara-Wheatfield. In the City of Buffalo, John Kisiel of Bennett was replaced by Steve McDuffie.

The only new coach in the Southern Tier is Bob Krenzer, who will call the shots for Sherman/Ripley in place of Tom Calzone.

The demands on today's coaches are extraordinary. Knowing the game and being able to teach is accompanied by plenty of expectations to win, satisfy parents, fans, school boards and alumni while not neglecting their own families.

That's plenty for Marshall to digest at Iroquois, which has been a frequent visitor to Ralph Wilson Stadium. After a combined 10 years on the JV and modified staffs, he graduated to the varsity along with many of his JV players from last year.

"There is certainly a more expansive sense of responsibility, is the way to put it," said Marshall, who teaches eighth-grade English. "There are definitely off-field responsibilities, many more time commitments. You have more of a hand in the financial and personnel areas and there are many more decisions to make."

Layer, 49, couldn't be more ready after coaching the Clarence JV for 24 seasons.

With two all-Western New York first teamers among nine returning players, the change should go smooth.

"Last season is something that the kids will never forget but this is a new year," said Layer as his team warmed up. "My responsibility I think is just you know to carry on what the coaches here before have done. We're going to stick with the kinds of things that have been Clarence football."

Comerford was back in Timon green on Monday making his coaching debut on the Tigers' practice field behind Holy Family Church on South Park Avenue. Joining him on the field in an advisory role was his old coach, Paul Fitzpatrick.

Comerford, 28, went to Holy Cross and played football and basketball before graduating in 2005. He's fresh off a big win this summer in the elite division of the Gus Macker. Today, he works in the demolition field.

The Tigers have one of their better teams in many years with the addition of six kids who didn't come out last year. But the school with 240 boys still has to contend with Canisius, St. Joe's and St. Francis.

"You need every athlete in the school to come out to be competitive. We have a tough schedule and every game we play will be an uphill battle, but we like it that way," said Comerford. "We've been working out for three days a week for three months, so the kids have been really dedicated. Frankly, they're sick of losing, so they've come out in good numbers and have made this transition real easy."

Robbins was promoted after serving as last year's defensive coordinator at Canisius.

"I didn't get hired until mid-May, which is always a challenge because we really had to get things going quickly," he said. "But we had good systems and good things in place, and a good group of seniors that really kind of kept the weight room and everything going in the offseason."

Tomm said that other than having to handle the administrative duties at North Tonawanda, everything will be virtually the same as in the past.

"We're not gonna change what's been successful," Tomm said, adding that most of the staff remains from former coach Eric Jantzi's tenure. "A couple different wrinkles, offensively and defensively. We're always gonna play hard, we're always gonna play as a team. That's what we've always been, and we're not going to change that at all."

Sam Kilb and Lauren Mariacher contributed to this story.