West Seneca West ended every last practice before a game the same exact way this season.
The offense took a knee in victory formation because that’s how the Indians planned on ending each game.
That’s quite the change in mentality for a program that came into the season having missed the Section VI playoffs 12 straight years.
But this team was different.
Following an undefeated season at the modified level, the current senior class as eighth-graders made it their goal to reach then Ralph Wilson Stadium. They accomplished that feat, but didn’t stop there.
When seniors Jesse Broad and Josh Karmazyn combined to break up a Yorktown pass on fourth down at the Carrier Dome last week to clinch the Class A state crown, Indians coach Mike Vastola looked up at the clock. There were 44 seconds left.
“That’s where it hit me, saying, ‘Holy cow, we actually did it,’” Vastola said. “There’s nothing like throwing up the signal for victory formation.”
Just like they practiced.
For changing the culture of football at West Seneca West, guiding the Indians to a perfect 13-0 record and their first sectional, regional and state championships, Vastola is the 2017 Buffalo News Coach of the Year.
“It only takes one group to show that it’s possible,” the third-year coach said. “We had a good collection of hard workers that held each other accountable. Now the challenge is to keep them going now that there’s an expectation for them.”
There were always high expectations set for this season. But when Matt Myers and Juston Johnson officially joined the Indians from Bishop Timon-St. Jude, the belief reached another level.
Players demanded that much more out of each other and it added to their desire to win.
“Like we told them (Myers and Johnson), we’re a playoff team right now,” Vastola said. “If you guys want to join us, we’ll be competing for a championship. We were honest with them. When you look around, there were some real good players on the team besides them. Everybody from seniors to sophomores.”
That there was.
Senior lineman Bradley Claycomb and sophomore linebacker Mike Glinski joined Myers and Johnson on the All-Western New York first team. Junior Josh Clifton was second-team kicker and classmate Bryan Ball a third-team defensive back. John Speyer, Jesse Broad and Liam Scheuer were honorable mention All-WNY.
Seventeen players in all received some sort of Class A South all-star honor.
Scheuer was the one affected most by Myers’ return. The sophomore was named the starting quarterback in the summer and led the Indians during Lancaster’s 7-on-7 camp. Then he was relegated to backup duty, and it ended up working out in West’s advantage on the defensive side of the ball.
The 6-foot-1, 220-pound Scheuer started at end and finished the season first on the team in sacks (12) and tackles for a loss (23) and third in total tackles (109). He also recovered two fumbles, the second of which gave the Indians possession for the seven-play, 77-yard drive that Myers finished with a 2-yard touchdown run to give West a 14-6 lead in the state championship game with 1:37 left on the clock.
He likely isn’t on the field making that play if he was behind center on offense. West might not even be playing in that game at all.
“That definitely made us better on defense,” Vastola said. “Not only did our offense have more experience with Matt, but now our defense becomes lethal with a player of Liam’s caliber there full time.”
The Myers-led offense put up nearly 41 points per game, while the stingy D gave up just over 13 per outing. West wasn’t held below 27 points before scoring 14 in their final game of the season.
“The kids understood that when things weren’t going our way, it was our fault. It was never what the opponents were doing,” Vastola said. “We were harping that no matter what the situation was, whether it be down two touchdowns to South Park or the slugfest with West Seneca East or finding ourselves one play away from losing the state title, our guys knew it was in their hands.
“We preached to the guys that the hardest part about being good is being consistently good. Every team has its ups and downs, but the difference between the great teams is who does the little things right.”
The 2017 West Seneca West Indians were indeed a great team. The greatest the program has ever seen.
What allowed them to become great was the foundation laid by all those who donned the blue and gold before them.
“When you have guys from the '60s and '70s and '80s reaching out and telling us what a great job we did, that’s when it really sinks in,” Vastola said. “We talk all the time about playing for all the guys who’ve worn the jersey prior. That’s part of our mantra. We ‘Bleed Blue.’ We play this game for more than just you, me, your parents, your friends, everyone in the stands.
“Finally giving all the thousands of guys that have played over the years vindication and something to be proud of is the best part of winning for us.”