Prep football: Buffalo looking for new direction
BUFFALO, W.Va. - Question marks and youth line the Buffalo football roster, though valuable experience returns at the skills positions as the Bison prepare for the upcoming season.
Who will replace graduated standout quarterback Levi Jordan? How will incoming players adjust to new roles at a varsity level? Approximately half of the expected 30 Buffalo players will be freshmen, though four upperclassmen highlight the running back and wide receiver group.
"We've got a long way to go," 12th-year Coach Mike Sawyer said. "We're not even close to figuring out who's going to be where or what. We're real young. We're still trying to figure out what we want to do."
The Bison must work hard to fill the gaps left by last year's squad, the seventh under Sawyer's direction to reach the playoffs.
As the three-week summer training period ends today, Sawyer said the coaching staff has spent its time wisely by working to acclimate the team's youngest players.
"Basically, right now, we're just trying to get the young kids to learn, so that we don't have to do it in August," he said. "We're spending this three-week period mainly for weightlifting and getting together kids, so they know what's going on."
The tallest task will be in replacing Jordan at quarterback. Senior Austin Hensley and junior Austin Moore will challenge for the role.
"Austin Moore's a bigger kid," Sawyer said. "Austin Hensley is smaller and probably more likely to be a running-type quarterback."
Sawyer noted that he's not close to making a final decision on who the starter will be.
"We're in the process of finding out who can play for us," he said. "It's an ongoing battle and we'll continue to work on that through August and find out what we're going to do there."
Protection for whoever wins the signal-caller spot will be key, too, with just two returners with line experience in junior Tony Mundell and sophomore Jacob Easton. Of the 11 seniors listed on Buffalo's 2012 roster, seven were linemen.
"A lot of work to be done there," Sawyer said of his players in the trenches. "We may end up having to have a couple, three freshmen down there starting. We lost two or three starters and one decided not to come back out. It's really a mystery right there because we've done work with them over the three-week period, but there's no pads involved so we still don't know."
The running back and receiver positions have far less uncertainty.
Senior Isaiah Robinson, a three-time state champion with the Buffalo track team, and senior Gabe Garrison return to lead the receiving corps. Senior Laythen Good and junior Jordan Tucker will figure prominently in the baackfield as returning rushers.
Good is the top returning receiver in Class A, in fact. He caught 38 passes out of the backfield for 759 yards and seven touchdowns. He led Buffalo's ground game in 2012, carrying the ball 128 times for 783 yards and 10 scores.
Garrison caught only 15 passes, but averaged 23.1 yards per reception, gained 346 yards and scored five touchdowns.
Despite the inexperienced line and quarterback, Sawyer said he still plans to run Buffalo's typical sets.
"It's the same offense as we always run, the double slot," he said. "Our offense is pretty multiple. We run a lot of different formations out of it. We run a pro-I out of it, we run a lot of formations, but it starts out as double slot."
Offense or defense, Sawyer said the most important thing for Buffalo this summer will be incorporating the new players into the program.
"I'm more concerned with the weight room and getting those freshmen acclimated with what we're doing," he said. "We'll probably have around 30 kids and half of them will be freshmen, so we're just trying to get them all acclimated with what we're doing and trying to see who can play where and what position we can work them in. Soak up the experience, we're working hard and trying to learn. That's the important thing."
With such an approach, the Bison hope to answer questions about its potential starters and use the team's abundance of freshman as strength.
Buffalo opens the season at Parkersburg Catholic Aug. 31.