Chaney continues return to glory
The Cowboys are 5-0 and No. 1 in Region 9 in fourth year since returning to varsity competition
YOUNGSTOWN — Chaney football has a lot of history in its annals.
Although the Cowboys have never won a state championship, the school has produced countless college and NFL standouts, while also winning more Youngstown city titles than any other program before that series was discontinued.
So it was a somber moment for football in the Mahoning Valley when the Chaney program went on hiatus in 2011.
However, the program returned to competition in 2019. The Cowboys fielded a junior varsity squad in 2018 to prepare, but the varsity program didn’t take to the field until a year later.
“(Building from scratch) is exactly what it was,” said current head coach Seth Antram, who was an assistant coach on previous head coach Chris Amill’s team that first season. “With the routine of the football program, we were either mixing it togther from a group or having some (new) guys that hadn’t been around any form of that. Coach Chris did a heck of a job getting numbers up and getting the right guys in place staff-wise and we’re just still building from that — trying to get our numbers up and get the right guys around our kids.”
Now in its fourth season since its return to the varsity level, Chaney is coming off its biggest win since the program returned, beating perennial-power Canfield 16-13 last week.
As a result, people and pundits across the state are beginning to take notice of the Cowboys. In this week’s iteration of the Associated Press’ state high school football poll, Chaney has risen to No. 4 in Division III, while also climbing to the No. 1 spot in the OSHAA’s Division III Region 9 computer ratings.
“Everyone has been writing us out since week one,” said senior Jason Hewlett. “Nobody had us beating Poland, nobody had us beating Canfield. But we feed off the disrespect and we just want to earn our respect week-in and week-out.”
However, with its success, Antram said Chaney is transitioning from being the underdog to having a target on its back now, which is something they have to be cognizant of.
“As far as finishing this season, we still need to come in every practice and continue to get better,” Antram said. “But there’s other schools in the area that have been doing this before us, so that gives us a little chip on the shoulder that we still have a point to prove. Every week from here on out gets harder, regardless of who we’re playing.”
The seniors that have led the Cowboys on their run this season were freshmen on that first varsity team in 2019.
Hewlett and fellow senior Jawan Freeman are two of those players, and both have been instrumental to the Cowboys’ run this season.
“That first year coming back, we knew it was going to take (a lot) of work,” Freeman said. “We knew there wasn’t going to be anything right away off the bat for us. We just took it step by step.”
Freeman has seen firsthand how the team and the program has changed since that first season.
That first year, Chaney went 6-4, but didn’t make the playoffs. The second season, the COVID year in 2020, the Cowboys finished 3-6, but won a playoff game in the process. Then finally, last year, Chaney went 4-5, but was just outside the playoff picture.
“We’ve seen a lot of change, like the discipline, the respect, the commitment from everybody and all the players,” Freeman said. “The coaching staff changed over the years, but we found a way to work with it and work together and push through. The captains we have now have been a big part of that and I feel like the upcoming captains will be a big part too. I feel like they could keep this going, and I feel like Chaney could become something big over the years.”
This senior class has gotten things started, but after this season, it’s up to the underclassmen to continue Chaney’s current run of success into the future.
“When things get hard, it shouldn’t be about giving up or it shouldn’t seem like you can’t do it,” Freeman said. “Growing up and being a young man, ‘can’t’ shouldn’t be in your vocabulary. As a young man, you should feel like you should be able to do anything and everything. The younger players should know that if things get hard, they should just keep pushing no matter what.”
However, the future can wait. This season, Chaney still has five regular season games left, in addition to the playoffs. Conference-foe Ursuline stands in the Cowboys way Saturday night at 7 p.m. at Rayen Stadium, as Chaney chases its goal of a Steel Valley Conference title.