by Scott Kindberg
November 24, 2011
They’ve lost exactly two.
And when they line up for the opening kickoff at noon Sunday in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class C championship game against top-ranked Dobbs Ferry (10-1), the second-ranked Trojans (11-1) will be seeking their third title in four seasons.
It's staggering, frankly.
But as they anticipate another trip to the carrier Dome in Syracuse this weekend, the feeling is different that it was in 2008 and 2009, according to assistant coach Aaron Rounds.
“This is just magical, mysterious, surprising and amazing all at the same time,” he said at the end of practice Wednesday afternoon.
Those words might also describe the coaching staff, which even with a bulging resume to start the season, may have done its finest job since head coach Jay Sirianni brought his colleagues and friends together in 2003.
So when Sirianni, Rounds, assistant coaches Zach Agett, Kevin Salisbury and Pat Johnson, and junior varsity coach Dan Thomas all gathered for a photograph at wind-swept Charles A. Lawson Field – and staff members Chris Case, Fran Sirianni, Craig Underwood, Mark Arrnold and Bryan Bucklin were there in spirit – the group decided they would all smile.
Life is good on Hunt Road these days.
When one scans the Trojans’ roster, he doesn’t find a list of first-team All-Western New York candidates, outside of senior Jake Swan, who is one of the area’s finest players.
What one finds however is a hardworking bunch that has improved every week.
“At the beginning of the season when we showed up to camp” Salisbury said, “I thought if we could get to (the Section 6 championship game) – just get there- that would be a successful year, but they started slowly getting it.
“All of a sudden they just jumped and have really taken big strides in the last few weeks to play great football.”
What Salisbury didn’t say was the coaching staff which pretty much thinks Southwestern football 12 months a year, is seeing its behind-the-scenes efforts rewarded. Not only do these guys know the game, but they aren’t afraid to put in the time, and the results show.
“Definitely it’s the off-season program, and the time in the weight room and the time practicing before school has made a difference” said Rounds, a 1997 SWCS graduate. “Jay’s commitment to teaching character has made a big difference, too. That’s one of the things he does, trying to teach kids life lessons.”
So while it may sound cliché, words such as character, integrity and faith are as much a part of the Trojans’ success as blocking and tackling. If you hang around the program even a little, you’ll discover that Southwestern football is a family.
“The kids see that we’re trying to coach more than football” said Sirianni a 1993 SWCS graduate. “We try and teach character and integrity. I’m not going to say that every single kid (since 2003) has learned that, but most have.”
Not surprisingly, a number of former players – Agett (SWCS Class of 2004) being the most recent – have been on Sirianni’s staff through the years.
“We’re a bunch of guys who get along,” Sirianni said. “We have fun doing what we’re doing and the kids see that. That friendship is definitely huge.”
That’s not to say that the staff doesn’t have philosophical differences, but Johnson (SWCS Class of 1975) says, “Once a decision is made, then that’s it. There is no second-guessing.”
“Jay has great leadership skills to keep this organized,” added Johnson, who first worked under former head coach Chris Krantz. “Everybody has some specialties and the kids respond to it so well. That’s what made (this year’s team) pretty good. I’m just blessed to be around these guys.”
Salisbury, a Dunkirk native, said that the staff “respects each other’s opinion.”
“We understand it’s not about us, “he added. “It’s about putting the best front out there for our kids to be successful, putting them in a position to win.”
The players appreciate it. When I interviewed Swan and fellow captains Tyler Uber and Robbie Newell a couple weeks ago, there was no doubt who they felt was responsible for the team’s surprising success this fall. In fact, each of them credited the work of Sirianni and his crew.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the 2011 season is the Trojans relatively few penalties and their plus-24 turnover ratio. Against Fredonia in the sectional they trailed, 17-3, in the fourth quarter, but rallied to win 27-24, on a Tanner Hoose field goal in overtime.
“(Jay’s) calm demeanor was one of the things the kids saw in the Fredonia game,” said Johnson, the Chautauqua County jail warden. “They didn’t panic because the coaching staff didn’t panic.”
There won’t be any panic on the Southwestern sidelines on Sunday when the Trojans meet Dobbs Ferry one of the most storied programs in the state.
Funny, but the Section 1 school might be wise to hold the Trojans in the same regard.
“After we beat Fredonia,” Salisbury said, “that’s when I thought that maybe we have something here. Maybe we have a shot.”
The Trojans are about to pull the figurative trigger in a couple days.
Judging from demeanor of their coaches, the quiet confidence that has enveloped the team the last two months will likely be on display yet again at Syracuse University.
“Come Sunday, win or lose, no one can take away from what they’ve achieved,”Sirianni said. “It’s been a great run. We’ll try and pull one more out.”
Don’t bet against these coaches or these kids.