LEE -- John Graziano’s talent for kicking and Heamon Williams’ knack for finding and catching the ball are well known in Berkshire County high school soccer circles. The seniors bring plenty of athleticism to the Wildcats.
Something’s different in 2013, though. You won’t find Graziano or Williams on the Lee pitch. They’re on the gridiron, having traded soccer for football.
Graziano, a solid scorer and distributor for Lee’s soccer team as a junior, decided to switch sports near summer’s end. Williams, who had been Lee’s goalie and a part of the soccer program since seventh grade, decided last season that he’d trade the goalie’s jersey for shoulder pads and a helmet.
"I wanted to be in the best shape I could for my senior year of basketball," Williams said Thursday. "I felt football, and the practices football goes through every day, is going to get me in the shape I need to be in."
Lee coach Keith Thomson had expected Williams to switch sports at some point. He said the new tight end had thought about the switch two years ago, when the Wildcats reached a Western Mass. Super Bowl, but Williams ultimately remained in goal.
Graziano’s defection, though, was a surprise.
"John was one of those kids who didn’t just play soccer. He was an outstanding soccer player," Thomson said. "He invested a lot of time and effort into being a good soccer player, and had an outstanding year last year."
Neither one had ever been a football player before. They knew some facets of athleticism would transfer easily from one sport to the other, but Thomson knows you can’t just decide to play football and suddenly be a football player.
"[Their] work ethic is outstanding," the coach said. "Heamon looks at a tight end like a forward in basketball, posting up on the low post. He’s a big, strong kid.
"Johnny, we knew he could kick. What’s really taken us aback is that he may be our best route runner at receiver right now. We see him progressing throughout the year and really being able to help us at wide receiver."
They’ve been through weeks of practice and one game -- a season-opening loss at Old Rochester -- but so much of football is still new to the pair. Graziano, for one, is still getting used to kicking a pointed prolate spheroid (or football) rather than a spherical polyhedron (or soccer ball).
"It’s completely different, especially with punting," he said. "You can kick wherever you want on a soccer ball, but you have to kick a specific spot on a football. Otherwise, you’re just done."
Williams’ indoctrination came during an "Oklahoma" tackling drill in preseason. The drill requires each player to start from a prone position, and get up to either run with the ball or tackle a ballcarrier.
Williams, who probably never faced football-type contact of this nature in goal for Lee, met a Wildcat lineman the hard way.
"My neck hurt pretty bad for the next couple of days," he said. "After that, I was used to it."
It’s no secret that one of the biggest in-school athletic rivalries is the one between football players and soccer players. It’s only natural, then, that Graziano and Williams faced a little ribbing from their new teammates upon joining the Wildcat football program.
Still, Thomson said, the players have welcomed them with open arms.
"You hear it a little bit, but I think they’ve earned the respect of their teammates," Thomson said. "They see the way they approach practice every day."
Graziano admitted it’s all still new to him, but noted he’s still putting in as much work as possible to fit in with a new set of Wildcats.
"The team’s great," he said. "Everyone’s going to work hard, because we all want to get to that state championship at the end of the year."
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