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D-9 Media Day marks unofficial kickoff to high school football season

Sheffield’s Caden Smead (8), Walker Kyler (12) and coach Chris Korbar attend the District 9 Football League Media Day in Ridgway, Wednesday, July 31, 2019. The event brings coaches, players and athletic directors from all D9 schools together to meet with media members to discuss the upcoming season.

RIDGWAY, Pa. – The annual gathering of coaches, players, athletic directors and media members at Aiello’s Cafe Wednesday means only one thing.

High school football is back . . . almost.

All those entities were gathered for the District 9 Football League Media Day. The event serves as an unofficial kickoff to the season and allows teams to lay out their plans for the year.

“We’re expecting more (of ourselves) on and off the field,” Sheffield senior Walker Kyler said.

Kyler wasn’t the only player looking for improvement.

“Our big thing is perfecting our craft,” Bradford’s Caleb Nuzzo said.

“We grew a lot with our football knowledge and learned a lot about ourselves,” Kane’s Teddy Race said. “Now, we’re like coaches on the field.”

Change was a big theme during last year’s D9 Media Day. The new league formation, D9 combined the Allegheny Mountain League and Keystone Shortway Athletic Conference into the District 9 Football League, had most coaches excited. Additionally, there were five new head coaches across the district (Sheffield’s Chris Korbar, Kane’s Jim Hillman, Keystone’s Ryan Smith, Union/AC-Valley’s Brad Dittman and Otto-Eldred’s Troy Cook).

The excitement over the new league alignment came to fruition as nearly every coach said they were pleased with the competitive balance it created. The only drawback was extended travel for some teams.

“It was competitive and unpredictable week-to-week,” Elk County Catholic coach Tony Gerg said.

“Considering the outcome for us, we were very pleased (with the new league),” Smethport coach Adam Jack said. “We didn’t have to travel much this past year, but that will obviously change this year as we travel to face teams that came to our home field last year. Regardless, we would still rather travel to play schools of the same size than the alternative.”

Stability seemed to be the focus heading into the 2019 year, even for the four new head men at Curwensville (James Thompson), Port Allegany (Justin Bienkowski), Redbank Valley (Blane Gold) and St. Marys (Chris Dworek). Of those four, Dworek is the only one who wasn’t part of a previous coaching staff at the school. Thompson steps in for Andy Evanko who passed away in June after a battle with ALS.

Gold may be in the best position to succeed immediately as he inherits a Bulldogs team coming off a 7-4 season and still loaded with talent. “Often, guys will leave a team once they see the cupboard is getting bare,” he said. “Coach (Ed) Wasilowski stepped away with the most talent we’ve had.”

One team looking for some changes is Kane. The Wolves entered the 2018 season having been to six straight D9 championship games. But former coach Todd Silfies stepped down after the 2017 year and first-year head man Hillman had to attempt to replicate that success with just 10 upperclassmen on his 51-player roster. The Wolves finished with a 2-8 record.

“We had a lot of young guys and we struggled last year,” Hillman said. “We need to find our identity offensively and defensively. We’ve worked hard through the offseason to define ourselves.”

The 2019 regular season gets underway Aug. 23.

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