MG/CL Quarterbacks Jonah Tanner, Kyle Muyer, AJ Hulton.
Sept. 20 - at Cassadaga Valley
Oct. 11at Ellicottville/WValley
Oct. 19at Clymer
RECAP OF 2012
Maple Grove had a superb year, going undefeated in the regular season and winning the Class D league title, then winning a pair of playoff games before falling to Randolph, 21-0, in the sectional final.
"Last year we ended up winning the division and unfortunately for us, we lost to the state champion Randolph Cardinals at Ralph Wilson Stadium," coach Curt Fischer said. "It was a great year, it was just that Randolph was on a roll and they were a great team."
"It was hard," Fischer said of his team's lone loss. "It was definitely tough. Any kind of loss when you get to the sectional finals is tough."
Fischer still looks at the season as a success, though.
"We take the best out of it," he said. "We still look at it like it was a great season. We lost to the eventual state champion. We lost to the best. That's a great year for us."
KEY PLAYERS LOST
Maple Grove lost a large class of seniors, led by running back Oliver Simpson, who was named co-offensive player of the year for Class D.
Also gone is John Scroxton, who earned co-lineman of the year honors for the league, and first-team all-league members Jake Swan (lineman), Lee Wascher (lineman) and Aaron Germain (defensive back).
Chautauqua Lake also lost a pair of first-team all-leaguers in linemen Anthony Pezzulo and Andrew Pezzulo.
Maple Grove returns a small group that includes Jonah Tanner at wide receiver and defensive back; Graham Nelson at running back and defensive back; and Jed Micek. Tanner made second-team all-league last year.
Chautauqua Lake brings a good group of returning players to the team featuring Chandler Baker (first-team all-league at linebacker) at offensive guard and middle linebacker; and A.J. Hulton (first team at linebacker) at fullback and outside linebacker.
OUTLOOK FOR 2013
The biggest obstacle the 2013 Thunder Dragons have had to overcome so far is introducing Chautauqua Lake's players into the fold after the two programs merged this offseason. So far, Fischer said, so good.
"It's gone very well so far," Fischer said. "Our kids are getting along great. There's a great number of kids on jayvees and on varsity. The jayvees have their own practice, varsity has its own practice. It's worked out really well for all the kids. They're getting more coaching."
Fischer said the move was necessary, as it has been for several area small schools, in order to keep the numbers up as football competes with other sports for attracting athletes.
"I think everybody's hurting for numbers right now," Fischer said. "It's hard for these small schools and it's hard for us, with a strong cross-country program and soccer. They have kids playing hockey all year-round now, we have wrestlers who do that all year-round and it's starting to hurt us."
The inclusion of Chautauqua Lake -which had its own strong football program the past few years - puts the Thunder Dragons on track for another successful season.
"We're hoping to do well," Fischer said. "Things are going a little slow right now. We're all trying to get used to new calls and get used to new formations. We've just got to take things slow. We've got to do less things slower than try to do more things not as well."
A list of the favorites in the highly competitive league has to start with defending state champion Randolph. But there are several other contenders, of which the Thunder Dragons are one.
"I think Randolph is the team to beat, without a doubt," Fischer said. "They are loaded. Portville is always going to be good. Ellicottville is apparently very, very strong this year coming back up from the lower division. It's going to be a good division, obviously.
"I think we're right in the middle. If we get our stuff together we're going to be a tough team. If we really get our act together we're going to be a good team. We've got some quality players."
KEY GAME OF
Fischer looks no further than Week One as he attempts to mesh two schools' programs.
"I think our key game of the season is Portville, our opening game," Fischer said. "We're really going to know where we are. We're going to find out how well we've come together in the three weeks we've spent together and how far we have to go. It will be a huge measuring stick that first week."
The Thunder Dragons continue their rivalry with Randolph in Week Four. Fischer admitted that it will be odd not having Pat Slater, who coached the Cardinals for 34 years before retiring this off-season, on the opposite sideline.
"It's going to be tough," Fischer said. "Obviously he was a great coach and he was a great guy and a great person for local high school football. It's going to be strange."