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Published: November 04, 2009 10:23 pm

HS FOOTBALL: GI assistants bring out the best in their players

By Nate Beutel
Niagara Gazette

GRAND ISLAND — Behind every great man is a great woman.

A similar statement can me made in regards to high school football head coaches and their assistants.

Just ask Dean Santorio, the ninth-year head coach at Grand Island.

“My guys are the best,” he said of assistants Mike Stauffer and Steve Steck. “I really appreciate all the hard work they do throughout the year. Sometimes it gets overlooked, but in reality they are just as much a part of our success as I am or the players are.”

Here’s an in-depth look at the tandem that makes the Vikings’ staff tick.

Mike Stauffer

The former North Tonawanda lineman began his career at GI as a JV assistant in 1998 after volunteer stints at NT and Churchville-Chili. He moved up to the varsity with Santorio in 2002 and has since worked primarily with the offensive line and some special teams units.

Even more important than his constant work with Xs and Os, though, is Stauffer’s commitment to the players on and off the field.

“He develops personal relationships with the kids, especially the offensive linemen” Santorio said. “Kids are always willing to play that much harder for you when you show an interest in them and I think that is Mike’s greatest attribute.”

Senior guard Jeff LaRiviere confirmed Santorio’s thoughts, noting that Stauffer is a guy “you can go to as a friend with any problems.”

“He’s a big part of our motivation,” LaRiviere added. “Before every game we usually gather around the 40-yard line and he’ll take his can of whoop-ass (a taped up can) and break it on someone’s head, usually a tough guy on the team.”

Steve Steck

The former GI lineman joined Santorio’s JV staff in 1996. He became the head JV coach in 2000 before moving up to the varsity as an assistant in 2001. Steck, who played lacrosse at Rutgers and Canisius, serves as the team’s defensive coordinator.

Steck’s unique packages are well-known throughout Western New York, but it’s his sense of humor that makes him standout on this staff.

“He’s the one that gets the kids to laugh and have some fun when things get mundane or old,” Santorio said. “He’s got some quirky jokes that the kids really take to.”

Senior linebacker Brett Dlugosz, who also plays lacrosse for Steck, admitted that sometimes “you look past just how good of a coach he is because he’s so funny.”

“I remember last year in our Friday practice before our playoff game against Cheektowaga when Steck went on one of his rants about playing tough, physical with heart etc. … He got so worked up that he tackled one of our players, Jared Caver,” Dlugosz added. “I still can’t explain it. It was so weird. He’s just so into it.”

The trio

The Vikings have become one of the tightest-knit staffs in the area as all three coaches are married with young children and within just a few years of each other in age, according to Santorio.

“We have a really good relationship with football and life,” he said. “We’re all good friends. And I think the players see that, too, which helps us stay close as a team.”

And despite all three having distinctly different responsibilities, no one is afraid to make a suggestion or even poke fun at one another.

“We bounce things off each other all the time,” Santorio said. “Nobody feels insecure about what they’re doing, which makes us all better coaches.”