Rebuilding job in Buffalo
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When a program has experienced some success, like Buffalo has in football, one of the hardest things is remaining patient when you're forced to start over again.
The Bison lost 11 seniors from last year's 28-man squad that qualified for the Class A playoffs for a third straight season. Among Kanawha Valley schools, only George Washington (six) and Hurricane (three) can match Buffalo's postseason streak.
Then, during this year's three-week out-of-season practice period, one of the Bison's top returning players - speedy running back Laythen Good - suffered a knee injury that will keep him out all year and perhaps jeopardize his senior season of basketball. Good was one of just five seniors on the roster.
Not a great way to start the season, right?
Bison coach Mike Sawyer and his staff might not be ratcheting down their expectations just yet, but Sawyer admits that everyone must remain patient.
"Most of our players are young, so they don't know any better,'' he said.
"It's hard on us coaches because we're used to being ahead of where we are, as far as what the kids know. It's always harder on me when we get a new quarterback. We just run more drills than normal because we've got so many young kids trying to pay attention to details and we want to get them to learn as quick as they can. Hopefully, we'll pick it up because the season is almost upon us.''
Among its many graduation losses, Buffalo bade farewell to Levi Jordan, a four-year starter at quarterback. Trying to replace him are Austin Hensley, a senior transfer from Columbus, Ohio, junior Austin Moore and and sophomore Ty Smith.
Last year's backup, Brandon Buntura (6-foot-3, 195 pounds), has been moved to receiver.
With Good out, Sawyer has been forced to move senior Gabe Garrison (6-2, 177) from wide receiver to slotback and junior Jordan Tucker (5-8, 155) from slotback to running back, Good's old spot.
Sawyer saw some positive things in his team's lone scrimmage, a workout against Class AA playoff hopeful Clay County last Saturday.
"I thought we played with them pretty good,'' Sawyer said. "We're awful young, but we held our own with them, and that was a little shocking to me because Clay is supposed to be strong.
"I saw a lot of stuff we need to work on, but as young as we are and with people in new positions, we did OK. I was pleased with our effort. Our new quarterback did OK, too. Everything is one step at a time, and trying to get better every day.''
Sawyer said the scrimmage didn't show him any true surprises either way, good or bad.
"It went about what we expected,'' he said. "Our defense was maybe better than we thought it might be - the kids were flying around a little bit. We're working on tackling a little bit more than normal. We don't have a junior varsity, and we've got a lot of kids playing varsity for the first time, so with that in mind, I thought it went pretty good.''
Again, Sawyer has to temper his hopes with the knowledge that the majority of his players are neophytes.
"You go into every season expecting a lot,'' he said, "but you try not to look ahead. We want to try and teach these kids a good work ethic. They're doing what we ask of them.
"We hope we can get some wins while we get some experience. No doubt we'll be better by the end of the year.''
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.