By Keith Raad
Wing night at the Dryden Hotel will never be the same. Their memories and moments in Dryden dissipate, for at least a few years, as high school seniors Matt McHerron and Stu Stahlman hang up their Purple Lions football jerseys and go in different directions.
McHerron heads to Buffalo State University and Stahlman to SUNY Cortland, for both NCAA Division III football and academics, and both reminisce about the time they single-handedly ruined wing night for the local area.
“Our first year on varsity [football], we were in 10th grade,” Stahlman says. “We used to have wing-eating competitions between the skill guys and the linemen.” McHerron delivers the difficult news that altered life for some in the Dryden area. “I’ll never forget the one night that our linemen ate 130 wings,” he says with a smile. “At the time it was $9.99, I think, and after that night I’m pretty sure it went up five bucks.
High school memories fade as new paths form, in opposite directions, for two friends who spent years lifting Dryden fans out of their seats with touchdown after touchdown. It wasn’t uncommon for Stahlman to rush for 200 yards and multiple scores in a game, while 6-foot-2 wide receiver McHerron would out-leap defenders in the end zone for an aerial touchdown.
Though they both wish for another chance to relive those glory days, they look forward to playing collegiate ball and pursuing criminal justice careers.
Stahlman, the thick, quick, sturdy tailback and linebacker, found his college just a stone’s throw from home at SUNY Cortland. Thanks to guidance and an inside scoop from his high school head coach Ralph Boettger, a Cortland alumnus, Stahlman is eager to begin his college career.
“In the college search, I didn’t really care about playing time or playing right away,” Stahlman says. “I wanted to pick somewhere with football tradition and the ability to move on in the playoffs. Winning means a lot to me.”
The short distance to Cortland played a factor in Stahlman’s decision to stay relatively close to home, and his chance at becoming a “freakback” for the Red Dragons. A running back and linebacker in high school, Stahlman will line up at tight end, slot receiver and even run plays out of the backfield. Head Coach Dan MacNeil’s Cortland football program advanced to the NCAA Division III Tournament’s second round in 2015, capping off one of the most successful seasons in school history.
Having family in Buffalo made the college choice easier for McHerron, whose brother Greg lives in western New York. During the college search, with help from Boettger and his family, McHerron swiftly learned the difference between desperation and the right fit.
“College coaches that call all of the time start to give off a feeling of desperation and trying to just build numbers for their team,” McHerron says. “But the coaches that call every once and a while and tell you how things really are, they are the ones I wanted to talk to.”
The Buffalo State football program has only been around since 1981, but the Bengals have made several appearances in the NCAA Tournament and won several ECAC championships. They moved from the NJAC to the Empire 8 in 2012, and so did long-time rival Cortland, which moved from the NJAC to the Empire 8 in 2015.
McHerron and Stahlman will be in separate locker rooms, but will face off in four meetings on the field during their college careers. With both teams in the Empire 8 Conference, the first of four regular season meetings for the programs will be Saturday, Oct. 8, in Cortland. A chance for McHerron to return to the Ithaca area will reinvigorate those high school memories.
“I’m going to miss all of my friends and family in the stands during the game,” McHerron says. “Being able to see them and say ‘hi’ is what I’ll miss, but I’ll be able to see them again when we play each other.”
Head-to-head in football for most of their young lives, they’re also tied together in future careers. Stahlman’s goal, when football ends, is to be a detective, or FBI agent, or New York State Trooper. McHerron longs for a criminal justice career as a New York State Trooper as well.
From their zeal for what the future holds, the constant reminder that life isn’t easy comes from Boettger. “He just says that college is a humbling experience,” McHerron says. “Here in high school you’re at the top and you almost have to start all over again in college.”
Together for years, McHerron and Stahlman now embark on separate lives, and they can’t wait to get started.
By Keith Raad