Buffalo's big win over the Colts on Sunday was memorable for many reasons. As snow fell in historic amounts, Bills players, coaches, staff, and fans all rose to the occasion, showcasing the passion, toughness and perseverance that has come to symbolize Western New York. While the game produced many inspiring storylines, so did the pregame ceremony. Honored on-field prior to kickoff, were 22 local high school football coaches who each have their own unique tales of triumph. Their contributions to the community are noteworthy, so too are their connections to some of the Bills very own, including Defensive Line Coach Mike Waufle and Alumni Manager Jeremy Kelley.
Throughout the 2017 football season, the Bills proudly teamed up with ADPRO Sports to recognize 11 coaches from both the Buffalo and Rochester regions through the High School Coach of the Week program. The program, which also honors a Coach of the Year from both regions, provides the winners with a $1,000 grant for their program. This year, Erik Werner, head coach of Hornell (Rochester Region), and Mike Vastola, head coach of West Seneca West (Buffalo Region), received the award.
For Mike Waufle, a Hornell native, and good friend of Erik Werner, the accomplishment is one that came as no surprise. Located outside of the city of Rochester, Waufle describes Hornell as a close-knit, hardworking community – traits that also describe Werner and the Hornell Red Raiders football team.
"Yes I do [have a relationship with Erik Werner], he was on the staff with Gene Mastin [longtime Red Raiders head coach] who I was very close with for so many years," explained Waufle. "He won the state championship three years in a row in Hornell. Erik took over and my wife and I support the program. He's doing a great job and will be able to continue the winning tradition. In his first year, he went right to the championship game, so we're proud of him. That community's always been a blue collar, tough community."
This season, his sixth as head coach, Werner lead his team to a 10-1 record. Defeating Livonia 22-20 for the Section V Class B title, the Red Raiders advanced to the state tournament. Taking on the Cheektowaga Warriors, the Red Raiders lost their only game of the season. A successful campaign, the Red Raiders will look to carry their momentum into the 2018 season.
As for the Buffalo Region Coach of the Year, Mike Vastola, his 2017 season with West Seneca West was also impressive. With Vastola's guidance, West Seneca West tallied a perfect 13-0 record and for the first time in team history, won the sectional, regional and state championship titles. Taking on the Yorktown Huskers in the Class A State Championship on Friday, Nov. 24, West Seneca West came away with a 14-6 victory. Holding the Huskers to a scoreless three quarters, the West Seneca West defense proved dominate.
Bills Alumni Manager Jeremy Kelley, who played football at West Seneca West in the early 2000s and now helps the coaching staff, has known Vastola since he was in high school.
"Mike [Vastola] had just come on as a JV coach during my senior year," said Kelley. "He was a lacrosse coach prior to that. He became a teacher and then got involved with coaching and moved up to varsity. This year I assisted the staff on the sidelines…I was the motivational piece to the team. I offered my insight as a player and tried to help out in any way I could."
Explaining how the program has had its ups and downs over the years, Kelley attributed the turnaround to Vastola and his passion for coaching.
"Mike [Vastola] is invested, caring, passionate and willing," said Kelley. "He wants to do what he can to get that program going in the right direction. I think it was a good combination of having the talent and a coach that is willing to do all of those things – it turns into 'W's.'"
Congratulations to Werner and Vastola on their standout seasons and each of the Bills and ADPRO Sports High School Coach of the Week winners!