By MIKE MEILER
Niagara Gazette — Success in football and wrestling involves very similar qualities. Balance, strength and toughness will allow top athletes in both sports to find success.
At Lewiston-Porter, Jon Hoover, head coach for both the football and wrestling teams, is putting that relationship to the test. Hoover estimates that between half and three-quarters of this winter’s wrestling team is involved in his football program.
“It helps us in both sports,” said Hoover, in his 12th year at the top of the wrestling program. “Wrestling and football, they go together, especially for linemen and linebackers. It’s all about one-on-one battles — having that ability to have that balance and strength to move guys — and that’s all wrestling.
“Wrestling builds your mental toughness. It’s all you out there, you’ve got to go out on the mat and make it happen, and that builds mental toughness. When you’re out on the football field and it’s fourth-and-one and you need to move some guys to pick up that yard, that’s where that toughness comes in.”
Hoover said almost all of his linemen and linebackers are also wrestlers. Even some of his “skill” players hit the mat, including senior cornerback/wide receiver Dan Reagan, who placed fourth in states last year in the 138-pound weight class.
Reagan is only one of Hoover’s Lancers that had success last season and is returning this year. Ryan Korner is the defending Section VI champion in the 132-pound class, and fellow junior D.J. Marshall finished third in the section at 126 pounds. Sophomore Garrett Rath placed fifth in the section at 285, and sophomore transfer Andrew Schomers placed second in the large school tournament at 113 last season with Niagara Falls.
“He’s come in and fit right in,” Hoover said. “He works well with the guys and should have a big year for us.”
Missing from this year’s squad will be two third-place sectional finishers in graduated seniors Kevin McMurray and Jason Kromer. Would-be-freshman Brandon Delavia, who had already earned 80 varsity wins while in elementary school, was recruited to Blair Academy (N.J.), one of the top wrestling programs in the country.
“It’s a big loss for us, but we’re obviously very happy for him,” Hoover said. “That’s a great opportunity.
The Wolverines have a young team this season, highlighted by a Section VI Class A champion, senior Dequan Ralands (182), and a Section VI finalist, junior Donnie McCoy (106). Head coach D.J. Giancola also pointed out senior Besha Duckworth (160) as a returning senior who’s looked good early on.
“We’re very young, and we have a lot of new guys on varsity,” Giancola said, “but what we lack (in experience) we make up for with a lot of hard workers with good character who pour their hearts into wrestling.”
The Wolverines finished third in the Niagara Frontier League last season, and Giancola said they’d obviously like to get back there this year.
“You can’t ever pick where you want to be,” he said. “Whether their prepared or not, they go out there and try, and that’s all you can ask for.”
The Falcons had success at last weekend’s Orchard Park Tournament, giving coach Rick Sweney a reason to be excited for this season.
Vinnie Falvo, Ricky Schweickhard, Dan Cicco and Farris Farr took first-place finishes, while Marcus Popp, Deon Harris, Derrick Printup and Mike Pope placed second in their respective weight classes. Shane Helbig notched a third-place finish, and Brandon Brusino and Ryan Plotez came in fourth.
The team will be led by Schweickhard (138), Popp (132) and Printup (145), all of whom are senior captains. Freshmen Falvo (99), Helbig (113) and Harris (120) will come in and add youth to a team replacing two graduated seniors who are now wrestling in college, Max Antone (Niagara Country Community College) and Jake Kelly (Navy).
“We’re halfway decent right now,” Sweney said. “We’ve got 15 places to fill and, in some spots, we’re still figuring out what’s best.”
The Vikings welcome back a strong senior class, highlighted by three players who placed in last year’s sectionals: Nick Schuster (120) and football players T.J. Acker (152) and Anthony Zogaria (220).
First-year head coach Chris Ciechoski will also welcome back Joe Verdi, who qualified for sectionals last season at 113 pounds. The sophomore has been ranked in Section VI since he was an eighth grader.
“I’d put him in the mix right now,” Ciechoski said. “He’s a very strong finisher.”
GI finished fourth in the NFL last season, but graduated 10 seniors, including Korey Bennett, who placed in last year’s sectionals.
“We have a solid corp of seniors this year,” Ciechoski said. “We’ll be competitive this year, we have a solid lineup, but we’re working at rebuilding our JV team and adding depth.”
The Lakemen return two sectional athletes this season, but they’ll focus on replacing five senior starters in what coach Chris Held said was a rebuilding year.
Chase Wheeler finished fifth in Class B at 160 pounds last season, while Brian Kerwin, one of the football team’s top defensive linemen, finished third at 220.
“It’s a rebuilding year,” Held said. “We’ve got good leadership from our senior captains, but we just don’t have the numbers. We’ve got 16 on the roster, and would like to be in the mid-20s.
“We took third last season, which was pretty good for us. We’d like to repeat, if not to better than, that.”Follow high school sports reporter Mike Meiler on Twitter @mikemeiler.