Four months of hard work has already paid off for three of Western New York's state title teams. But two Buffalo Bills showed those teams Tuesday how they can keep their success, and their dreams alive with healthy lifestyles.
Wide receiver Lee Evans and quarterback Gibran Hamdan partnered with the American Dairy Association to speak to recent state football champions from Orchard Park, Maple Grove and Southwestern high schools about the importance of healthy eating to go along with their high levels of exercise.
Evans talked about the importance of dairy products in his development into an NFL first round draft pick while playing in the country's dairy capital at the University of Wisconsin.
"Areas like that that tend to have a lot of dairy products, like Wisconsin and upstate New York, people tend to be stronger than different areas of the country," he said.
Evans encouraged the players to develop nutritional plans tailor-made for their bodies. He stressed the importance of healthy eating not just to get ready for a big game, but to prepare for a long life.
"It's relevant not for one day, one week, one game, but it's about being healthy so you can play for a long time," Evans said. "The key is to stay healthy enough to do it again and again and again. When you look at it not so much as a day-to-day thing but over a long time, you can see how being healthy tends to help you down the road."
The players had a question and answer session in which one player asked Hamdan why he chose to play baseball and football at Indiana. Hamdan said he wanted to try his hand at baseball while backing up starting quarterback Antwaan Randle El before finding out that football was his true passion.
"Not specializing is a good idea," Hamdan said. "If a sport comes along where you don't feel the passion anymore, then it's time to walk away and maybe try a different sport."
Hamdan's message resonated with Maple Grove's Curt Fischer, the Buffalo Bills/NFL co-Coach of the Year.
"Too many kids think specializing in a sport is going to make them better," he said. "When these colleges are looking at them, they want to see athletes. I try to tell kids to do everything they can do."
Fischer's best players have certainly done that. In fact, most of their big plays on the road to the state title were between athletes who didn't limit themselves to football.
Starting quarterback Chris Secky, a finalist for player of the year, accounted for five touchdowns in the Class D state title game and is a second team All-Western New York guard on Maple Grove's basketball team.
Senior All-Western New York First Team wideout Joe Caporale, also a member of the Dragons' basketball team, returned the opening kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown in the Far West Regionals and caught three of Secky's touchdown passes for 175 yards in the state championship.
As if that wasn't enough, wide receiver Josh Micek, who Fischer predicted to be a state champion wrestler this year, threw a halfback-option touchdown pass to Caporale in the state semifinal.
Micek said he gets an obvious advantage from playing both sports in addition to taking part in plyometric workouts twice a week. He said the sports he plays helps keep him mentally strong.
"You stay in shape," he said. "Having the right attitude all year helps you keep the right mindset."
For Orchard Park's players, that mindset has allowed them to dream big. Head coach Gene Tundo, the 2007 Buffalo Bills High School Coach of the Year, said the recent success of Bills linebacker and Orchard Park native Jon Corto makes kids in his area dream of making it to the NFL.
"It shows that you can make it at the next level," said First Team All-Western New York linebacker Brendan Nuessle.
Tundo said he sees an uncanny similarity between Corto and Nuessle, whom he considers the best linebacker to come out of Orchard Park.
"Brendan is a kid who downplays his ability but he could be here (in the NFL) some day," Tundo said. "Brendan and Jon are the same mentally. They more than love the game, they thirst for it."