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Prep Talk: Thank you very much, Jamestown

Someone on Twitter joked that Thursday’s news that Jamestown and Canisius had scheduled a 2014 football game was an early Valentine’s Day present to me.

And yes, I will admit, it did elicit a little pitter-patter out of this veteran sportswriter’s heart.

It shouldn’t be this way, of course. A mere nonleague game scheduled between the best public and private schools – like the ones we see every year, and every season, in every other sport except football – shouldn’t be such a rarity. But unfortunately that has been the case in Western New York.

More on the Debby Downers later – back to the team making the good news.

Jamestown coach Tom Langworthy made it clear to me that he and his program wanted this game. The reasons are obvious (again, to all coaches of all sports other than the top Section VI football teams): They wanted to improve their program, take a step up in competition to give themselves the best chance to win in the playoffs, and they did so the way teams in any sport do – by upgrading their schedule.

“At this point, for where we are as a program right now, it’s the right move,” said Langworthy, who will host Canisius in Week Four on Friday, Sept. 26. “We don’t want to be complacent. It’s a step to be more competitive and have a more rigorous nonleague schedule. The message we are sending to our players is that we always want to get better.”

The Red Raiders have also looked to upgrade their schedule with another nonleague contest, one with nearby Warren of Pennsylvania, which would renew a rivalry that the programs had years ago. That game fell through due to changes in Pennsyvlania’s classification that prevented Warren from doing it. The Jamestown-Canisius game, Langworthy said, did not happen as a result of the Warren game falling through – ideally Jamestown would be playing both games.

“We’re just trying to send a message to our players that just because we were Section VI champs, that doesn’t mean as a coaching staff, we’re going to be pleased with it,” Langworthy said. “We’re taking steps at a staff to continue to be successful. I think we’re all about giving our kids a top-level high school football experience. We feel like we do that, and this is another way to do it. The kids are excited for it, I’m sure both sides are excited for it. That’s what high school football is all about.”

The fact that the game already has Game of the Year status didn’t hurt.

Jamestown and Canisius tied for the top spot in last year’s News large school poll: Each team had five first-place votes and 95 points.

It gets better: Two programs that have proved that they know how to reach the top of their leagues will return a combined five first-team All-Western New York players. Jamestown has three – junior wide receiver/defensive backs Zack Panebianco and Stephen Carlson and junior lineman Joe Mistretta.

Junior tight end/defensive end TJ Wheatley and junior linebacker Brad Zaffram will be back for Canisius, as will the only returning second-teamer between the two schools, junior defensive back/wide receiver Josh Huffman.

“The real focus here is our kids,” Langworthy said. “This is an awesome opportunity for us. We have a good group coming back, Canisius has a good group coming back, and we’ve both had success the last couple of years.

“For me personally it’s not about public versus private. It’s about the kids. This is an awesome opportunity to play football against each other, and hopefully an experience for both teams that will help them have success in the playoffs.

“We’re not going to make it like it’s the state championship game. We’re treating it like every other week, but with the added excitement and a lot of pride at stake. It’s a tool for us to get better, and it’s an awesome experience.”

Amen, coach. This reporter has often written that as long as the best public and private large schools don’t play nonleague games, Western New York high school football will never be as good as it could be. Here’s to a great step in a positive direction.

The group of schools willing to schedule private schools has grown in recent years. North Tonawanda, Lockport, Clarence and Williamsville South have joined the Buffalo Public Schools. I’ve often written that the list needs to include Orchard Park and Sweet Home, clearly the best two football programs in Western New York over the last decade.

Well look at this: Canisius still has a spot open on its 2014 schedule.

OP and Sweet Home, it’s never too late to say yes. Or how about Williamsville North? The Spartans are coming off a great run to the Class A state title game and they have plenty of returning standout players. Remember, like coach Langworthy said: “It’s about the kids.”