CLARENCE, N.Y. (WIVB) — When the Clarence Red Devils walked off the field for the last time in 2019 after losing to Lancaster 23-17 in the Class AA playoffs, they just couldn’t wait to get the chance to strap back on the pads and get revenge.
16 months later, Clarence is finally getting that chance as they are just days away from opening up the spring high school football season.
“I think it’s felt like a gift, because we got it stripped away from us last year. No one really expected it to go as smoothly as it’s going right now. We’re just living in the moment,” Clarence senior tight end JD Brooks said.
“It’s just great to see these young men happy and smiling,” Clarence head coach Paul Burgio said. “After everything they’ve been through, to see them together with that brotherhood, to have that time together even in this week and a half short time period, it’s just great to see kids happy to be together and playing football. That’s the bottom line. That makes me happy automatically, to see them happy.”
“It’s been very exciting. We’ve waited a really long time to play and it’s great to get out here,” Clarence senior running back Zachary Norton said. “We have to mask up and be socially distant, but just to be with the team playing football, it’s great since it’s been over a year.”
When asked if 2019’s six point playoff loss to Lancaster was still a motivating factor some 16 months later, the answer was a quick and resounding absolutely.
“As soon as last season ended, we all got in the gym and we stayed there for the whole 16 month because we knew that one day we were going to play, and wanted to make something of it,” Brooks said.
“We’re highly motivated. That loss in the playoffs last year really fueled us in the offseason, and obviously that offseason was much longer this year, but we’re just motivated this year. Very,” Norton said.
On top of being highly motivated to get back out on the field and play the 2021 high school football season in the spring, this Clarence team is also ready to command respect from teams across WNY.
“This group means a lot. They want to prove to Western New York football that they’re one of the top teams. It’s not about press or rankings or anything like that, it’s just about earning respect. I really can’t wait to see this group of seniors lead this team to get that respect,” Burgio said. “We tell them nobody gives you respect, you have to earn it, and in this division, that’s a hard thing to do. From any team you play, it’s a hard thing to do. They practice that way. Every day you can hear us getting onto them for little things, because our expectations are high for them.”
“This team is special because we’re all closely knit, and the brotherhood we’ve got here is really great,” Brooks said. “We all have a team first mentality, and we’re all trying to look out for each other, stay safe and have fun.”
The Red Devils open up their 2021 high school football season on Saturday in a 2pm matchup at Niagara Falls.