It’s a business trip with fringe benefits for the Lancaster football team, especially the Gill family.
Make no mistake. The Legends (1-0) are heading to Toledo, Ohio, with one goal in mind – beat defending Division III state champion Central Catholic (0-2).
The two butt heads at 7:30 p.m. Friday night at Gallagher Stadium. It’s the first time Lancaster will ever play a team from Ohio. It’s the first time the Legends will experience the hoopla that surrounds Friday Night Lights in the football hotbed that is the Buckeye State.
They can’t wait.
“It’s a great opportunity for the guys in our program to get a little exposure out there,” Lancaster coach Chris Dickson said. “It’s great for them if they want to play college football” because there will be a ton of Division I coaches in attendance.
While Lancaster is doing this for the first time, several Catholic schools from the Monsignor Martin Association have regularly made trips to Ohio to face top programs.
“Everyone dreams about going to Ohio and playing on Friday nights,” junior receiver Leugim “LG” Castillo said. “It should be a great atmosphere. ... I’m really excited.”
Senior guard Kyle Belzer added: “I definitely think it’s going to be a cool experience for all of us.”
Especially for the Gills.
Sean Gill is a senior linebacker for the Legends, while his oldest brother, Dan, is the athletic director for Central Catholic.
“It’ll be cool to match up against my brother and experience some big-time Ohio football,” Sean said.
Dan Gill, a Lancaster graduate and former basketball coach and AD at St. Mary’s, called Dickson during the offseason to see if his alma mater would be interested in filling a nonleague opening on the Fighting Irish’s schedule. The two came to an agreement to have Lancaster make the overnight trip to Toledo, with the journey being financed via offseason fundraisers and an assist from its alumni association.
Why did Gill give Lancaster a chance at filling an opening on Central’s schedule?
“One my conversations with coach Dickson, ... I know the level of excellence he’s trying to build at Lancaster,” Gill said. “As a graduate of Lancaster I thought it would be a great opportunity to give back to the program, and it allows them a platform to elevate their program. These are the kinds of games you need to play to build a culture of excellence.
“I think it’s a win-win for both programs.”
How exactly does this game benefit the Irish? It gives them a chance to play against a big, Class AA-size school in a game that doesn’t hurt their league standing. Central would be considered Class B in New York State but plays in a league with mostly Class AA-size programs.
Then there’s the family reunion.
While Sean made the trip to Toledo on Friday morning with the rest of his Legends teammates, his parents and other two brothers made the trek a day earlier for a family gathering at Dan’s house. Other Gill family members who live in the state of Ohio also made the journey to Toledo.
Dan Gill expects to have several friends from Western New York in attendance for Friday’s game.
“It’ll be great to reconvene with a lot of familiar faces from the Lancaster community,” he said.
That’s true, but come game time Sean will likely have most if not all of them on his side. Where do Dan’s loyalties lie?
“I’m going to be rooting for a great game, good competition between two schools with a rich history of success,” he said without picking a side.
Among other games closer to home Friday night, Springville, which won its season opener for the first time since 1996, hosts Class B South rival Fredonia (0-1) at 7 p.m. In Class AA South, Frontier (0-1) visits News No. 2 Large School Orchard Park (1-0), while Clarence heads to Riverside for a Class AA North battle between 0-1 teams.
Key Saturday games include Jamestown visiting Williamsville North in a nonleaguer that’s a rematch of last year’s Class AA semifinal, Sweet Home hosting Starpoint in a Class A North clash at Bob Barczak Stadium, Kenmore West visiting Lockport in the Class AA North opener for both teams and Kenmore East hosting North Tonawanda a week after forfeiting its opener at Grand Island.