After West Seneca West's seniors completed an unbeaten season as eighth-graders at the modified level years ago, the crew received T-shirts with the motto "starts here and ends there."
The "there" in this case was a picture of New Era Field, then known as Ralph Wilson Stadium, to signify the Indians' ultimate goal they strived to achieve before their time together at the school reached its end.
Lofty goals to be sure for a then struggling program that had never won a Section VI championship, but perhaps in hindsight they should have thought bigger. Yes, they got to The Ralph and won the title but their collective journey and time together did not end there.
It will end, however, Friday win or lose.
West Seneca West (12-0) faces Section I champion and fellow unbeaten Yorktown at 3 p.m. for the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association Class A title. Section VI competes for two state crowns on Friday as the tripleheader of championship games at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse begins at noon with the Class D final between Maple Grove (11-1) and defending champion II-Cambridge (11-1).
Two other area teams will play for football championships this weekend, too.
Canisius looks to defend its New York State Catholic High Schools Athletic Association championship at noon Saturday when it welcomes New York City champion Archbishop Stepinac to the Stransky Athletic Complex in West Seneca.
On Sunday, Lancaster closes out the local scholastic season at 3 p.m. when it takes on defending state champion II-Troy at the Carrier Dome in the NYSPHSAA Class AA final.
It's the opportunity of a lifetime for each of the teams, but for several members of West Seneca West this will be the last time they play together in the same game. That leads to some unusual feelings entering the clash.
"I don't really want to think about it," said Indians junior lineman Josh Wilson, noting that the inevitable, emotional moment could be difficult.
"There will be a lot of emotion but it'll probably be one of the best experiences of my life so far," senior lineman Tavian Brooks said. "We came this far. We're not going to lose now. I'm really excited."
It's a moment their fellow teammates, center Vinny Draper and guard Brad Claycomb, have been working toward ever since age 7 when they were Mustangs not Indians.
That was the first time they lined up side-by-side on the offensive line as members of West Seneca West Little Loop football. As they progressed and rose through the ranks, the two continued to find themselves on the same teams, next to each other on the line.
"When we started at guard and center together and played the next three years together and then got to middle school and played the same spots it was like 'all right, this kid's going to be one of my best friends for a long time,' so I didn't have a problem with it and then we just started hanging out outside of school and built a bond," said Draper.
It's a bond that's gotten stronger during this historic season for West Seneca West. Watching game film on their own at each's home is among the activities they do when they hang with each other.
While they have practiced and played in a lot of games together, they aren't the only ex-Mustangs who are playing their last football games as Indians. Wilson, Jesse Broad and Luke Wilhelm are among the others whose journey to Friday's gigantic moment began 10 years ago.
"Being able to play together for a state championship as our last game as seniors is one of the greatest feelings in the world," Draper said. "We knew coming into this season that with talent like Matt (Myers), Jesse (Broad), Juston (Johnson), Kyle (Haettich) … (John) Speyer and (Bryan) Ball at running back, we knew that we were going to have to step up and give them holes so that they could make their plays. Defensively we knew that we had some good 'backers and two DBs so we were going to have to start stepping our games up, get some pressure on quarterbacks and make plays in the backfield and I feel like that's what we've been able to do this season and that's what's helping us overall as a team."
It has along with the contributions of others who weren't on that unbeaten modified team from years ago due to their ages. Sophomore Liam Scheuer leads the team in sacks, and classmate and linebacker Mike Glinski has the most tackles. Junior Juston Johnson has played well at receiver and defensive back and is a dangerous returner on special teams.
"Without them I don't know if we could've made it as far as we could have but I think we would've still been good," Wilson said. "We didn't make it this far just to make it this far. We want to win."
So too does Maple Grove.
The Red Dragons have been motivated all season by gaining a measure of revenge against the only team to beat them last year from weight room sessions and passing camps during the offseason to the work put in during the season to reach this point.
They now have that chance against Cambridge and couldn't be happier.
"Back to the Dome where we want to be," senior Zak Trim said. "Dome sweet Dome."