How beloved is the local weatherman?
Some viewers were concerned and wondered where Spectrum News' weekday morning meteorologist Dan Russell was during a recent two-week stretch in which he wasn't on the air.
Russell reassured those who inquired via social media that there's no cause for alarm. He's still doing Weather on the Ones and would return. He did earlier this week.
Russell took a long vacation from his professional passion so that he could indulge in his other passion — football.
The friendly weatherman is a former scholastic star and Brockport State player. He is also the new head coach at Lake Shore.
The two-week vacation he took was so that he could spend his mornings getting to know his players and putting them through their paces in preparation for the season. The Eagles' kick off Friday at home against defending Section VI Class B champion Cheektowaga.
"Our goal is to bring fun back to playing football (at Lake Shore)," Russell said. "Our motto is, be proud. We want these kids to be proud you're playing football, be proud you're giving it your all."
Russell succeeds Drew Takacs, who stepped down following his fifth season and the Eagles' 1-6 campaign.
Russell said he was encouraged by parents to apply for the job. Athletic director Daryl Besant said the district selected him from among five candidates because of Russell's organizational skills, demeanor and his ties to Lake Shore's junior football association — one of the feeder systems for area high schools.
Landing a high school head coaching job is something Russell didn't forecast for himself. The reason is he doesn't teach in a school district. More often than not, school-district personnel get priority when applying for district coaching vacancies.
While the Eagles drop from Class A into the Class B-1 Division, that doesn't mean their schedule will be any easier. If anything, the challenge to win more games than last year got a little more difficult as Lake Shore joins a division that features four playoff qualifiers from last season (Cheektowaga, Maryvale and Pioneer in Class B and Iroquois in Class A).
"It's going to take a couple of years to build this program to where we want it," Russell said. "I don' want these guys looking forward to the end of the season. I want them to be disappointed when the season is over because they want to keep doing this."
Russell, a three-sport star athlete in high school, earned All-Monroe County honors as a senior at Brockport. He said he had a couple of Division I walk-on offers but opted to stay close to home and attend Division III Brockport State (he was a member of the 2000 team that reached the NCAA quarterfinals). A dislocated knee cap ended his playing career and his dream of joining the Air Force as a meteorologist.
Through professional connections he landed a television meteorologist job after graduation with then Time Warner Cable in Syracuse. Once Time Warner established its news channel in Buffalo, he was hired as the station's weekday weatherman.
He's thrilled to have the opportunity with Lake Shore but understands there's much work to be done. That includes quelling folks' fears whenever he's off the air.
"People were pretty excited to find out" he was back on the air, Russell said.
More coaching changes
While Russell is a new coach patrolling the sidelines, several other programs have turned to some familiar names in hopes of leading their teams to glory days.
Chautauqua Lake/Westfield: Curt Fischer replaces Rich Morton.
Depew: Mark DiRienzo replaces Brian Wilson.
Eden/North Collins: Rick Weber replaces Mike Alessi III.
Frontier: Chuck Tilley replaces Mark Privateer.
Hutch-Tech: Tony Trulizio replaces Chris Gelsomino.
Lockport: Trait Smith replaces Matt Vermette.
Maple Grove: Justin Hanft replaces Curt Fischer.
McKinley: Micah Harris replaces Brian Hillery.
North Tonawanda: Eric Jantzi replaces Dan Troy.
Orchard Park: Craig Dana replaces Gene Tundo.
Portville: Josh Brooks replaces Gary Swetland.
Roy-Hart: Marcus Wyche replaces Don Baker.
Sweet Home: Jeremy Zimmer replaces Rich Lowe.
Mergers and shifts
Nichols' decision to drop varsity football and the addition of charter school Western New York Maritime/Health Sciences mean the total number of teams in the area is 70 for the second consecutive year.
How they are divided in divisions, though, has changed. The section is using enrollment to determine membership in its divisions in Classes A and B.
Class A is now made up of Class A-1, A-2 and A-3, while the B's are B-1, B-2 and B-3.
Class A-1 is particularly interesting because several former AA teams are now in there as a result of the state's decision to change the classification's minimum enrollment number from 930 to 1,025. A-1 includes Frontier, Jamestown and Niagara Wheatfield. Kenmore West, which is two years removed from AA, also is in this division along with defending state champion West Seneca West, which for years was one of the smaller schools in AA. Hamburg also is in this division.
Class A-2 members are McKinley, North Tonawanda, Williamsville East, Sweet Home, Grand Island and Kenmore East. Class A-3 features West Seneca East, South Park, Starpoint, Williamsville South, Amherst and WNY Maritime/Health Sciences.
Iroquois and Lake Shore dropped from what used to be Class A South into Class B-1. That division includes Cheektowaga, Maryvale, Lewiston-Porter, Pioneer and East Aurora/Holland.
Class B-2 has Medina, which is now merged with Lyndonville and Barker; Olean, Albion, Depew, Lackawanna and Springville. B-3 has Dunkirk, Fredonia (with Brocton), Tonawanda, Newfane, Alden, Burgard and Eden/North Collins, which moves up from Class C.
The 14-team Class C is divided into a North and South. Cleveland Hill, Akron, JFK and Wilson remain in Class C North and welcome former South Division members Gowanda/Pine Valley, Silver Creek/Forestville. Roy-Hart, which is no longer merged with Barker, drops into Class C North after being in Class B.
Class C South regulars Southwestern, Falconer/Cassadaga Valley and Allegany-Limestone welcome some ex-Class D teams into the division. Those making the jump are Franklinville/Ellicottville, Chautauqua Lake (which is now merged with Westfield), Portville and Randolph/Frewsburg.
Class D consists of four teams: Maple Grove, Catt./Little Valley, Clymer/Sherman/Panama and Salamanca. Class D will play an eight-week regular-season schedule with each team playing each other twice. The top four in the standings advance to the sectional semifinals in Week Nine.
The Monsignor Martin also decided to split into two three-team divisions with big schools Canisius, St. Francis and St. Joe's in League A and small schools Bishop Timon-St. Jude, St. Mary's and Cardinal O'Hara in League B.
With Class AA consisting of just eight teams, they all will be in one division and will play eight regular-season games (seven division and one nonleaguer). The top four finishers advance to the Section VI semifinals in Week Nine.
The rest of the classifications will have the customary seven-week regular season and begin the Section VI Tournament with quarterfinal games in Week Eight.
With the Monsignor Martin High School Athletic Association splitting into two divisions, the association will hold large schools (League A) and small schools (League B) championship games Nov. 10 at All High Stadium. The League A champion advances to the state Catholic championship game tentatively scheduled for Nov. 24 with the New York City Diocese champion serving as host. However, if the downstate champion winds up being a team that is locked into playing in an annual rivalry game on Thanksgiving Day, the final will be the following weekend.
Section VI Football chairman Ken Stoldt said Spectrum News will televise one game a week beginning Friday with the Grand Island and Starpoint contest. Week Two features Williamsville North at Clarence.
MMHSAA Executive Director Pete Schneider said the airing of a few private-school league games from New Era Field hasn't been finalized. What is known is that St. Joe's plays Canisius at the home of the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 28. The other two games there feature Timon against Cardinal O'Hara (Oct. 5) and Timon versus St. Mary's (Oct. 19).
First team: RB Aaron Wahler, Cleveland Hill; WR Juston Johnson, West Seneca West; DL Jemelle Jones, Williamsville South; LB Mike Glinski, West Seneca West; DB Rashad Law, Maryvale; P Cole Snyder, Southwestern.
Second team: QB KeShone Beal, Cheektowaga; K Josh Clifton, West Seneca West; DL Elijah Lewis, South Park; P Corey Day, Iroquois.
Third team: RB Joe Jamison, Canisius; U Jon Stevens, Clarence; K Jayden Schultz, Jamestown; LB Taivaughn Roach, Cheektowaga; LB Mike Rigerman, Pioneer, LB Jayon Renfro, South Park; DB Dylan Kelly, Williamsville North, DB Bryan Ball, West Seneca West.
Honorable mention: QB Connor Desiderio, Maryvale; QB Steve Frerichs, Wilson; QB Deabeyon Humphrey, South Park; QB Joe Nusall, Wmsv. North, QB Izaiah Rhim, Medina, QB Cam Sionko, Grand Island, QB Easton Tanner, Maple Grove; RB Kaiyer Fields, McKinley; RB Ugene Harrison, Albion; RB Quantavis Kleckley, Dunkirk; RB D'Jae Perry, Bennett; RB John Speyer, West Seneca West; RB Clarence Thomas, South Park; DL/OL Stephen Boyd Jr., Cardinal O'Hara; DL Greg Braswell, South Park; DL/OL Rob Giancarlo, Sweet Home; DL/OL C.J. Ozolins, Canisius; OL/DL Joseph Powers, Lew-Port; DE Liam Scheuer, West Seneca West; OL/DL Ben Schoenle, Canisius; K Tristian Vandenberg, Canisius; U Alex Card, Southwestern; U Maurice Robertson, W. Seneca West; LB Scott Becht, Wmsv. North; LB Shaun Dolac, W. Seneca East; LB Joel Nicholas, Canisius; LB Michael Pataky, Orchard Park; RB Robbie Penhollow, Cassadaga Valley/Falconer; RB Icar Simon, Olean; RB Tywon Wright, Dunkirk; DB Colton Stetz, Eden/North Collins.
Top five games
It's Week One. Every game is big but, as always during football season, some are bigger than others. Here are this week's top games:
-- Cleveland Hill at Maryvale, 7 p.m. Friday: It's the annual season-opening game between the other Cheektowaga rivals. Maryvale rallied from 24-8 deficit in the fourth quarter to pull out a 30-24 victory last year in a thriller at Carl J. Kuras Field. The game served as a springboard for both teams as Cleve Hill didn't lose again until the state Class C semifinal, while Maryvale reached the Section VI Class B final. Despite last year's loss, Cleve Hill has won eight of the last 12 meetings against Maryvale.
-- St. Joe's at Bennett, 7 p.m. Friday: The rare Monsignor Martin versus Section VI large schools meeting takes place at All High. If the past is any indication this could be a ground-and-pound war. St. Joe's features perhaps the top line in the area with two Division I commits – Tyler Doty and Cole Gambino. Bennett added former St. Mary's star D'Jae Perry via transfer to its stable of running backs, which includes 1,000-yard rusher Semaj Clemens.
-- Starpoint at Grand Island, 7 p.m. Friday: Former Class A North rivals and co-division champions a year ago meet in a nonleaguer. The game features two of the top returning quarterbacks in the area in Starpoint senior Aaron Chase and GI counterpart Cam Sionko.
-- Franklinville/Ellicottville at Southwestern, 7 p.m. Friday: This game is intriguing because Southwestern is loaded and figures to make a run to New Era Field while ex-Class D heavyweight F/E is now in Class C South due to its past success.
-- Sweet Home at West Seneca West, 7 p.m. Friday: Last year is officially history. Still, that doesn't change the fact that WSW is the defending state Class A champion and figures to receive every team's best shot. The Indians ended Sweet Home's season in the sectional quarterfinals. Sweet Home transfer QB Maurice Robertson is ineligible for game against his old team because he does not have the minimum number of practices required to participate in a game.
Player of Week and polls
The News will select a player of the week based on Connolly Cup nominations. The honoree along with the honor roll and large- and small-schools football polls will run in print editions on Tuesdays.
Legendary Cardinal O'Hara coach Angelo Sciandra is back on the sideline, serving as an assistant with Tonawanda. … Takacs is an assistant coach at Hamburg.
The place to monitor all the high school football action on game days is PrepTalk.BuffaloNews.com. We will have photos and live updates from several top games and you will again be a part of the team via Twitter. Tweet game updates with the #PrepTalkLive hashtag and those will appear in our live post.