While sharing the field with the NYCBL’s Olean Oilers, amateur football’s Southern Tier Diesel opened its season on the new Bradner field with three consecutive home games, starting its season Saturday at the revamped field with a 21-20 win against the WNY Dragons.
The Diesel, of the Northeastern Football Alliance, enters the season following its best in team history, going 8-4 and reaching the NFA’s AA championship game, followed by two more home at home as the team returns to night games.
“We haven’t practiced at Bradner due to the construction,” coach J.R. Bennion said before the opener. “(But) Bradner Stadium looks nice. It’s come out well.
“With the Oilers starting Friday night with a home game, we’re in there Saturday, then they’re back Sunday, it’ll be a real test to the stadium. That’s a lot of athletic use.”
Sharing the field presents some small challenges, but nothing the Diesel can’t handle, according to Bennion.
“I think everybody, the Oilers, myself, the Rally (in the Valley), is going to have some hardships with the stadium layout,” he said. “But our mindset is to roll on in. There’s no real hindrances.
“Minus the base circles, I’m looking forward it having a football field without the big rock patches in the middle of it.”
The Diesel boasts a 43-man roster, a comparable total to last year’s, according to coach J.R. Bennion, but with heavy turnover.
“Offensively, we lost talent as a whole, two starting guys at receiver, a running back, three offensive linemen, but we did replace them with first-year guys,” he said. “They’ve got to get some game experience under their belt.”
Bennion said the team’s turnaround in 2013 helped replenish the roster.
“I think it helped bring in new players,” he said. “It got the word out. We just, unfortunately, lost so many returning players.
“I think we look OK. We don’t have the offensive weapons we had last year. We just have to work with what we’ve got, but at the same time we’re going to be OK.”
Bennion hopes a new conditioning program, installed before the 2013 season, will aid the transition, while playing in a conference with teams from Buffalo, Lockport, Lyndonville and Jamestown.
“The team’s in good physical condition,” he said. “Last year, I conditioned the guys hard through the preseason, so I know they’re in better shape. I know they can play 60 minutes of football and in the occurrence of last year, 90 minutes of football. We have to rely on that because we play teams from bigger-city markets, Buffalo, the Rochester area.”
“When you’re standing at the game, you see that we’re playing teams with 65-man teams and on average with peoples’ work schedules, we’re dressing 30.”
Among the Diesel offense’s top returning players are quarterback Zach Smith, running back Fred Knight and receiver Jason Folland.
“(Folland) had some talented guys with him and around him. Now he’s at the top of the receiver depth chart, so he needs to step up, be a leader and produce,” Bennion said. “Fred Knight is taking over the reins at running back.
“I think Zach is a great talent, a quiet leader and I’m looking for him to have an even better year than he had last year.”
Dave Filighera and Kirk Rowland lead the Diesel’s defensive front. Bobby Meyer, a former Diesel star, returns at safety.
“He lays the wood,” Bennion said of Meyer. “He lays the wood: fast kid, big safety.”
Jason Kaszynski and Kiel Liddell lead the Diesel linebackers.
Following the opener, the Diesel plays each Saturday, hosting Lyndonville June 14 and Nickel City June 21, each at 7 p.m.
“The downside to so many home games is the other foot drops and you’ll have so many road games (four straight in July and August),” Bennion noted. “It is nice to go into the revamped stadium and have three home games, to help these guys get experience playing at home. It’s good, but the other shoe drops at some point.”