The tradition continues at Sweet Home.
Whenever the Panthers gather for their first practice of the season, the team conducts fitness tests during the morning session which not only gives the coaching staff an idea who's in tip-top shape for the coming football season but ultimately helps determine who captures the prestigious Iron Panther Award.
The honor is earned by the player deemed to be in the best shape based on test results in various activities as the Panthers embark on preparations for the grueling season.
All the tests Monday were similar to those conducted on Day One by retired Sweet Home coaching legend John Faller. However, there was a new drill that closed out the competition called a timed stadium run.
In it, a player must run up the bleacher steps to the top, then run down them one step at a time. He then must go back up to the top of the bleachers hopping on one foot – alternating to jumping on the opposite foot midway up – and then running back down one step at a time. He then must broad jump up the bleachers and then run down one step at a time, to wrapping up the drill by running up the bleachers one step at a time and ending it by bear crawling down one step at a time.
Although one player completed that drill in 36 seconds, it's as exhausting as it sounds.
Call it Rich Lowe's way of injecting a little of himself into one of Western New York's signature programs.
Lowe is the new face of Sweet Home Panthers football. He succeeds Faller, who during his 30 seasons as coach guided Sweet Home to two New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association championships, eight Section VI titles and 16 division crowns, including a run of 11 in a row from 2004-14.
Lowe, who is just the fourth varsity coach in Sweet Home football history, isn't a stranger to the program. He's coached at Sweet Home since 1998, including the past 15 seasons as Faller's junior varsity coach. While every new coach has his/her own ideas on running a program, Lowe is embracing a philosophy that makes sense.
"Coach Faller has done a lot of great things here so I'm not looking to reinvent the wheel," said Lowe, during a short break before the Panthers gathered for their second workout of the day. "I'm following a great man. … They're big shoes to fill. I hope I don't trip over my own feet."
Lowe was recommended for the post in February as then athletic director Chris DeMarco said he liked Lowe's enthusiasm and passion for Sweet Home football.
Those traits were evident during the first practice and have been throughout Lowe's time at the school. He coached Sweet Home's junior varsity team to 99-16-2 mark with the purpose of developing players who could lead the big team to success.
He did the job well.
"My first four years I coached the o-line on varsity, my last year being our first sectional title in 2002," Lowe said. "John and I discussed the importance of these kids learning the fundamentals (as a varsity coach would teach) at an earlier age, and at that time I moved to JV to broaden my base. Best move I could’ve made in terms of my own development as well as the program."
Fifteen years as head man at junior varsity is a long time in the position. Was Lowe ever tempted to take a varsity head coaching gig outside the district?
"No, never," he said. "Absolutely content (waiting my turn). And I told coach Faller if he would've continued coaching 10 more years I would have stayed doing just what I was doing. I love Sweet Home and I love football. It wouldn't have mattered to me if I was coaching JV or varsity."
But Lowe is ready to lead the program, along with his longtime right-hand on JV Jeremy Zimmer, who moves up to varsity as offensive coordinator.
"They'll do a great job, look out for the best interest of the kids and have them ready to play," Faller said. "I have a lot of confidence in them."
"From what I know of him, he's a very hard worker," Lancaster coach Eric Rupp said. "He's going to work hard to get Sweet Home back to their winning ways."
The Panthers, once postseason regulars, are trying to end a two-year playoff drought.
Lowe and his assistants receive a boost in that quest in the form of the return of running back Dylan McDuffie to the district.
McDuffie started for Sweet Home as a sophomore before transferring to St. Francis as a junior, where he was a finalist for the Connolly Cup.
The potential Division I recruit along with seniors Joe Torrillo and Thomas Rivera are among the experienced skilled position talents, along with an infusion of standout junior varsity players, creating optimism that the Panthers could return to their old successful ways.
It still won't be easy in a loaded Class A North Division.
"We're not changing the system (that existed), it's just getting the kids back out and getting a new crop of kids to buy into the system and work hard," Lowe said. "I think we're going to be OK."