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Bennett coaches and players getting to know each other

Stevenson McDuffie is in a position he hasn't been in for quite some time.

The Bennett coach is in a spot where he has to get to know his personnel – and not just what they can and can't do on the football field.

"I'll have to get to know personalities," said McDuffie, who also is still learning players names after his senior-heavy outfit won the Section VI Class A title last year. "This is definitely a new experience for me to be (working) with kids who we have to build a relationship with."

The past few seasons, the Tigers thrived with familiar faces – including 2016 News Player of the Year and three-time All-Western New York selection Isaiah McDuffie, along with Nigel Robinson, Allen Wilson and Marcellus Toliver. They reached three straight Section VI finals in three different classifications, losing heartbreakers to Cheektowaga in Class B in 2014 and an overtime clash by a point in Class C to Maple Grove/Chautauqua Lake in 2015 before defeating Starpoint in the Class A final.

Those players are all gone now along with first team All-WNY linebacker Jamel Loften, putting coach McDuffie and his staff in getting to know kids mode while evaluating the strengths of the 32-man roster leading up to their season opener in Class AA at defending champion Lancaster.

"It's such a big change from last year," McDuffie said. "We'll do the best we can and hopefully be competitive and play the style of football Bennett has been used to the last five years."

One player McDuffie is familiar with is senior Brandon Barksdale, who started last season at linebacker. He expects big things from him.

Bennett is the flag ship name but the program this year also has players from Middle Early College, the defunct-Riverside program, East and the Alternative school. No students from Lafayette – which is also a part of the merged Bennett team – have come out as of yet. The bulk is from Middle Early College, which is housed in the same building as Bennett.

Remember, Bennett was supposed to be a school phased out after 2016-17 under an old plan that changed shortly after Kriner Cash was hired as superintendent of the Buffalo Public Schools.

This is just the second year since the phase out plan that the school has admitted students. Depth may be an issue in Class AA, where a good number of teams have at least 40 players to choose from on their roster.

"Hopefully these kids will carry the torch and the great tradition that's already been established (at Bennett)," McDuffie said. "Hopefully we can make our community and leaders within the Buffalo Public Schools proud."

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