Devare Mathis didn’t want to play varsity football this season for West Seneca East.
The sophomore wanted to play junior varsity, but not because he doubted his abilities. The linebacker/running back wanted to play on the same team as his friends, and they wanted to play with him too.
Coach Jim Maurino’s heard that before and in this case Mathis’ reason for playing junior varsity didn’t fly.
“Obviously being a teacher in the school I’ve seen him in physical education class,” Maurino said. “I saw what kind of athlete he was. … Kind of had an idea he was a really good athlete. Wasn’t sure how good he’d be at football. I knew I wanted to take a look at him.
“A lot of times they resist. He was unsure. … But once he started practicing with us, he definitely fit in athletically.”
The big winner in Mathis being on varsity has been the Trojans (10-1). The 5-foot-11, 175-pound Mathis has been one of the key players for this team during its first-ever run to the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association final four. He looks to continue doing his part Friday night in suburban Binghamton when West Seneca East squares off against Section III champion Indian River (11-0) in a Class A state semifinal at 8 p.m. at Union-Endicott High School.
The Trojans aren’t the only Section VI still alive in their respective NYSPHSAA Tournament. Also on Friday, Clymer/Sherman/Panama (11-0) opens the semifinal doubleheader at Union-Endicott by playing in the Class D semifinal against Section IV champion Tioga (9-2). It’ll almost be a home game for Tioga, which is located roughly 20 minutes west of Union-Endicott. On Saturday, Section VI Class C champion Cleveland Hill takes on Section IV’s Susquehanna Valley at 11 a.m. at Union-Endicott.
The winners of this weekend’s contests advance to the state finals in their respective classification next weekend at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse.
West Seneca East hopes to be one of those teams playing football on Black Friday instead of taking care of Christmas shopping needs. While senior Shaun Dolac has consistently been the Trojans’ best linebacker and offensive threat, Mathis has also compiled a nice highlight reel of his own. In a Week Two win over Williamsville South, Mathis returned an interception 22 yards for a touchdown.
“I think from that point on he realized he could play at this level,” Maurino said. “He’s just gotten better as the year progressed.”
For the season, Mathis has 679 yards rushing on 114 carries and nine touchdowns. On defense, he's made 81 tackles and two interceptions.
In the Section VI championship game win over rival and defending state champion West Seneca West, Mathis returned a kickoff 75 yards for a touchdown. In last week’s 15-8 win over Section V champion Irondequoit, Mathis scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 6-yard run early in the third quarter. Before that, he made sure the Trojans went into halftime tied with the Eagles by breaking up a sure-fire touchdown late in the second quarter on a third-and-goal play by ripping the ball away before the completion of the catch.
“(The receiver) beat me,” Mathis said. “I was, ‘Oh I got to get this.’ ... I had the reflexes to realize that it was a pass. I just tore it out of there.”
Skills and contributions like that prove that Maurino was right to keep Mathis with the big club. The experience has been rewarding for Mathis, too.
“When I moved to varsity I made more friends,” Mathis said. “These are my brothers. … It’s just fun being with these seniors balling out. I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing.”