At 6:30 a.m. this morning, the Mike Sarratori-era began as he opened up the weight room at Dunkirk High School for the high school football team.
Sarratori becomes the fifth Marauder football coach in seven years in an effort to turn around a program which has not seen a winning record in at least a decade.
"I took the job with the understanding they wanted me to try and turn this around," he said. "I want to try to and I am committed. I've never quit a job. I am here for as long as they will keep me here."
Sarratori was the Dunkirk football coach from 1990-98 and was the last coach to lead the Marauders to victory over rival Fredonia, 24-20. In fact, Sarratori's Marauders defeated the Hillbillies five straight years. Since then, Fredonia has won 15 straight.
"The Fredonia rivalry, let's put it this way, as a coach, I can't stand Fredonia," Sarratori said. "As a teacher and administrator, everything is good. As a coach, Fredonia is a different thing. It's a different ballgame. The rivalry right now is embarrassing. We need to turn it around. That raises the pride. Let's get some school pride and give them something to remember. It's been pretty one-sided and I hope we change that real quick."
Sarratori believes change must start with the players. And he has a simple message for the players.
"They are going to commit now or they won't be part of the program," he said. "We will move along with kids who want to follow along the way it's supposed to be. I am big on putting kids in a position to succeed. If kids have confidence in that and feel they can win, that will turn things around. It's not going to be easy. There is no quick way to do this. There are kids who can play football in this building. I think they need someone in the building that will hold them accountable. We are not going to turn things around because of a different coach. It has to be the kids."
Sarratori recently watched the Fredonia basketball team play against the Marauders, and he noticed the Fredonia players had bigger arms, shoulders and legs.
"Fredonia has a heck of a program going," Sarratori said. "It starts with kids playing other sports and consistency in the coaching staff. You can tell they are playing in Fredonia and getting to the weight room. That goes with coaching staff that stays together. I think it starts right now in the weight room and holding them accountable. It starts in the hallways, classroom and community."
Sarratori has not assembled a coaching staff yet, but knows he wants his offense to be tough and have a strong running game. He also plans to have more team-building activities and have the players spend time together. Sarratori also noted he hopes being a physical education teacher will also serve as a recruiting tool, as he will be able to see who the athletes are during gym class.
And while it is a fresh new slate for the coach, it is also a new, clean slate for the players.
"Really, I told the kids everyone is on a clean slate," he said. "Whether they quit or got kicked off or didn't come out in the past, they are on a clean slate. As long as they are working hard, we are going to build that way. If they aren't buying into what we are selling, we will go with young kids who want to buy in. I'm not going anywhere unless I get fired. We will build this the right way with kids who want to be here. I will make sure we are a team and we will do this all together."