BY MICHAEL KELLY
NISKAYUNA — As part of his day job at Niskayuna High School as a physical education instructor, Brian Grastorf inherited John Furey’s desk this past fall.
Next fall? Grastorf starts his first season as head coach of the Silver Warriors football program Furey led for more than two decades, a span during which Grastorf played quarterback for three varsity seasons.
“This is something I’ve always wanted to do and I’ve looked up to coach Furey since I was a kid,” Grastorf said. “I went to Ithaca [College] mostly because that’s where he went to school and I’ve tried to follow in his footsteps a lot.”
Grastorf, who graduated from Niskayuna in 2006, accepted the varsity football head coaching position at his alma mater earlier this year. Grastorf was a three-sport star for Niskayuna, playing football, basketball and baseball. He later played football and baseball at Ithaca before graduating in 2010 and going into coaching — a move that didn’t surprise Furey.
“I could see it,” said Furey, who also coached Grastorf in baseball at Niskayuna. “He had a good sense for the game and he has a good demeanor for it.”
After a year as a graduate assistant for Ithaca’s football program, Grastorf coached for three years in the Colonie football program before coaching at various levels for the Silver Warriors the past three seasons.
“I know the types of kids and athletes we have here,” Grastorf said. “I think this is a good fit for me.”
That’s how Furey sees it, too.
“It works out really well. He’s ready and willing,” Furey said of his successor. “He’s thorough, pays attention to details and has a good football mind.”
The Niskayuna football program has severely struggled in recent years on the gridiron and has not made it to a sectional semifinal since 2010. Niskayuna was winless in 2016, the fifth consecutive losing season for the program, and its first back at the Class AA level after dropping to Class A play for a couple seasons in which the Silver Warriors were not eligible for the postseason.
Roster size has been an issue for the Silver Warriors during that spa,n and the program’s varsity team finished the 2016 season with approximately 20 healthy players. In the immediate future, Grastorf said his primary focus is trying to generate more enthusiasm around the program and encouraging more kids to stay as multi-sports athletes rather than choosing to specialize in one sport.
“The big thing is recruiting kids and keeping them involved,” Grastorf said.
Furey already helped jumpstart that process for his successor. During the past few years, Furey invested time and energy into helping build up Niskayuna’s youth football scene and the lower levels of the school program. Grastorf credited Furey, too, for leaving the school’s large sophomore class — about 30 players — together on Grastorf’s JV team this past fall to allow them to develop further and hit the varsity scene as a group, rather than bolstering the varsity ranks with select players.
“All the credit for that goes to coach Furey,” Grastorf said. “That shows the kind of guy he is.”
Based on offseason weight-training sessions, Grastorf said he’s expecting to field a roster of approximately 45 players this fall — nearly double last season’s total for the Silver Warriors.
“So we’re starting to see some larger numbers already again,” said Grastorf, who added a short-term goal for the program is to add a fifth level of competition for 2018. In past years — and again in 2017 — Niskayuna has had two modified teams, either a freshman or JV team, and a varsity team.
As “a Niskayuna kid,” Grastorf said it has been tough to see the school’s football program struggle in recent years. He’s confident, though, that there are players within his program ready to get things back on track.
“You always have a sense of pride in the place you played,” Grastorf said. “I think we definitely have a bright future ahead of us.”