Football looks to get back on track in 2019

Emmanuel Rodriguez, Sports Editor

Last season marked the end of an era for Buffalo State football. After 25 seasons, spanning over two tenures, Jerry Boyes stepped down as Bengals head coach after a 1-9 record in 2018. Boyes is retaining his position as the school’s athletic director and proceeded to name his offensive coordinator, Christian Ozolins, as interim head coach.

“I was ecstatic,” said Ozolins. “It’s been 15 years since I got here. My career goal was always to be a head coach. I had a couple offers a few years ago, but I’m from Buffalo, I moved back from Tennessee to Buffalo for my family. I knew that if I did my job, did what I had to do, I would eventually get a head coaching job. I was very excited.”

After Kevin Torrillo graduated in May, the starting quarterback position was left vacant and it was Zak Ciezki who was given the opportunity to fill in.

Ciezki, who has spent the past three seasons playing for the Buffalo State Men’s basketball team, was originally recruited out of high school as a dual-sport athlete. He was on the football team’s roster in 2015 as a freshman, but after spending the 2015-16 season on the basketball team, Ciezki fell in love with basketball again and decided to stick with it. However, in January, two months after Ozolins was named the head coach, Ciezki went to Ozolins’ office and asked for a second opportunity to play football for Buffalo State.

“I have a senior starting quarterback who has never played a college football game,” said Ozolins. “(Ciezki) is not an arrogant kid. I think he lost only four games in his high school career at Cheektowaga Central and that was one of the biggest draws to recruiting him years ago.”

Thus far, it is unclear if Ciezki will return to the hardwood after the season on the gridiron comes to a close.

Luckily for Ciezki, he’ll have wide receiver Jordan Everett and offensive lineman David Lauer lining up with him, both of which are returning all-conference talent. 

However, the Bengals will be a team with a number of new faces as the  team only has eight returning starters: Everett, Lauer, offensive lineman Tre Smith, running back Martin Bailey, defensive lineman Jayson Taylor, linebacker Gino Bonagura and defensive backs Elloheim Tucker and Darren Wesley.

“We’re going to be extremely inexperienced again,” admitted Ozolins. “We played some seniors and they didn’t produce. This year, we’re not going to worry about entitlement. We’re going to be playing our best kids.”

Some of those best kids Ozolins mentioned include Lauer, Bonagura, defensive end Anthony Wasiyo and kicker Tommy Carr, who were all voted captains by their teammates in May. For Lauer, this is his second straight season as a team captain.

To Ozolins, it seems like Bonagura was a no-brainer to be elected as one of the captains.

“We forget about (Bonagura) in regards to him being a quiet young man from a defensive standpoint,” said Ozolins. “He didn’t get any accolades at the end of the year, but was number two in the conference in tackles. How that happens? I don’t know.”

Ozolins also made sure to mention offensive lineman Jake Vanwuyckhuyse and linebacker Taihele Williams.

“(Vanwuyckhuyse) transferred this past spring from Brockport and he will be a starter on the offensive line,” said Ozolins. “I feel very good about what he has done. Also, (Williams) is another young freshman from Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn. He has had a great preseason.”

However, Ozolins seemed a bit hesitant when mentioning any other freshman or transfer players.

“We’ve got a couple of other kids right now who are going to start to emerge,” said Ozolins. “Not that I want to hide the kids, but I also don’t want an 18-year-old to think ‘oh, wow. Everyone is thinking this much of me’ and have it become overwhelming. But this freshman class, in four years, is going to be very good.”

Some other players who were able to crack the rotation last year and Ozolins gave praise for a tremendous preseason was linebacker Jay-Quan Wilson and defensive backs Joshwa Benjamin, Nakai Payne and Obi Ngwu.

Of course, not only did the 2018 campaign not only mark the end of the Jerry Boyes era, but it also marked the end of Buffalo State’s membership in the Empire 8 as a football school. The 2019 season will mark the first season for Buffalo State as members of the Liberty League. 

The Liberty League’s members include Hobart, Ithaca, Rochester, RPI, St. Lawrence and Union.

“Its unique,” said Ozolins. “I know little about Union, we’ve scrimmaged Hobart, St. Lawrence, we played a few years ago. I have no clue about the University of Rochester, we have not played Ithaca in a few years, RPI, we played last year. So, we do have an idea of what’s in store in the conference but if you look at the conference, there are three teams that were in national postseason play last year.”

The Buffalo State Bengals football team will open the season on Saturday at the newly-resurfaced Coyer Field as they host the St. John Fisher Cardinals. Kickoff is slated for noon.