When Mike Rigerman was asked what’s the hardest part about moving from tight end to running back, the Pioneer senior’s response had nothing to do with getting used to a different form of contact, and with good reason.
Rigerman is used to being the target of the defense since he played running back prior to being called up to varsity as a freshman. He then was moved to tight end/H-back/linebacker.
“It took about a week for the full vision of a running back to come back,” the 6-foot-3, 230- pound Rigerman said. “It took me about a week to get into a rhythm of being a running back.”
The powerful three-sport athlete still has some things to work on, like running a bit lower so that he becomes more difficult to bring down. That said, he has more than shouldered the load for the run-first Panthers.
Through two games, Rigerman has rushed for 452 yards and seven touchdowns. He scored five touchdowns last week in a 42-14 win at Iroquois. He finished with 282 yards on 21 rushes to go with 13 tackles and an interception at his linebacker position.
More importantly, Rigerman has played a role in the Panthers meeting one of their goals for the season — getting off to a good start. Pioneer is 2-0 (both Class B-1 wins), its best start since going 4-0 to open the 2012 season.
The Panthers, ranked No. 5 among small schools in this week’s News Football Poll, look to keep the good times rolling at 7 p.m. Friday in their home opener against second-ranked Maryvale.
On paper, Maryvale is perhaps their toughest opponent to date.
“The challenge is to stay focused and not let our emotions get (the best of us),” Rigerman said.
“Last year, we started out 1-2 and were pretty beaten down,” Pioneer coach Jim Duprey said of a team that still made the playoffs. “This year, we’re in a better spot. But we have Maryvale this week and Cheektowaga next week. We don’t get a lot of breaks in Class B-1. … We like where we are now. We just have to prove we deserve it.”
While Rigerman, who also wrestles and runs track and field, has piled up the stats in the football team’s sizzling start, he’ll be the first to tell folks he’s not the reason for it. Duprey seconds that, saying its more the sum of the parts than individual herorics that has been the key to success.
That starts with the play of the strong line, a mix of juniors and seniors featuring Lane Patton, Trevor Smith, Jason Maul, Andew Payne and Aaron Doyle. Tight ends Brian Wittmeyer and Denton Tilly have been fantastic on the block, per Duprey.
While Rigerman has put up some great numbers, juniors Tyler Ely, Trae Hill and Tyler Ellis each are averaging 5 to 6 yards per carry.
“I think the kids are a lot more focused here,” Duprey said. “We’ve been in good shape in terms of injuries … We’ve been relatively healthy these last couple of weeks.”
And they’ve played well, including last week’s attention-getting win at Iroquois, a Class A playoff team last year. The Panthers’ defense led the charge with five takeaways. Safety Dillon Giboo had three of them, including an interception in the first quarter at the 5 that turned the game around.
While Rigerman and Ellis have been aggressive to the ball as linebackers, Rigerman admits he is enjoying being on offense a bit more than defense.
Perhaps, it’s because he’s born to run.
Other top games
Here are some of the other must-see games on the Week Three docket.
• Lancaster Legends (2-0) at Williamsville North Spartans (2-0), 7 p.m., today. It’s the rematch of last year’s Class AA final. Two-time defending Section VI champion Lancaster comes into game ranked first in the state poll, while North is ranked ahead of
the Legends in the News’ Large Schools poll.
• Bennett Tigers (1-1) at Clarence Red Devils (1-1), 7 p.m., today. Tigers followed two-touchdown opening loss to St. Joe’s by crushing Lockport last week. Clarence dropped heartbreaker in overtime to Williamsville North. Both teams made playoffs last year and both have goals of returning to postseason. But in a class in which only four teams make the playoffs, all division games are important.
• Cleveland Hill Golden Eagles (1-1) at Gowanda/Pine Valley Bears, 7 p.m., today. Battle for first place in Class C North as unbeaten Bears look to stay that way against reigning division champ Cleve Hill.
• West Seneca West Indians (2-0) at Frontier Falcons (0-2), 7 p.m., today. Indians’ winning streak is at 17 games in a row.
• V-Aquinas Little Fighting Irish (2-0) vs. Canisius Crusaders (1-1), 2 p.m, Saturday at Stransky Complex. According to recent history, the home team has found a way to win this epic struggle. Section V champion Aquinas won last year’s showdown in Rochester. Is it Canisius’ turn again?