Erik Werner (center) with Coach Mastin (right) after another title. Werner spent 20 years as an assistant and head coach in Hornell, helping the football team to four state final appearances and three state championships. (Mark Mahoney captured this image in 2011)
By JOHN ANDERSON
During the holiday, Hornell Football Coach Erik Werner picked the perfect time to pen a post announcing he was stepping down from his role with the Hornell Red Raiders.
In his letter, he thanked many members of the community, but most of all, his family for allowing him to spend half of his life coaching football.
Werner had the best and worst job in Section V. As an assistant coach, he was part of Gene Mastin’s staff that won 55 games in a row and three straight New York State titles. So many programs would do anything for a single Section V title. Hornell collected them like baseball cards.
When Mastin stepped down, Werner took over for the legend in the 2012 season. With many players lost to graduation, Werner had the difficult task of taking great athletes and putting them into new positions.
In his first season, Werner not only won a Section V title, he took Hornell all the way to the state finals for the fourth straight year. Hornell fell in the finals, but Werner proved he could coach with anyone in the state.
This past season with numbers between 18-23 players, Hornell did not opt for 8-man football. The team fought hard and gutted out a 1-6 campaign.
Their committment to the program was not lost on Werner in his farewell letter.
Here is his farewell address. After the letter, read words from community members and other coaches who posted about Werner and his legacy:
Thank you, Hornell Football (by Erik Werner)
There are entirely too many individuals that have contributed to and influenced my 20-year commitment to Hornell Football to believe that I won’t miss some, but I will as always do my best.
To all my former players, thank you for your dedication, your time, your effort to our mission. What we asked of you as a coaching staff was rarely easy and I am forever grateful to everything you gave to our program. I hope that the lessons we learned together have helped you as you moved on to life beyond high school football, and that I left you better than I found you. I am a better person because of your commitment to Hornell Football.
To my 23 warriors of 2022, thank you for fighting for this program. Despite being outmanned both in terms of numbers and experience, you played every game with 100% of your heart and soul, never backing down. You stayed true to your commitment to the program, and never quit on your community, school, or brothers on the team. I’m sorry that I will not be able to stay with you to finish your journey, but I know you will do great things over the next couple years. I’m thankful that I could be there for the start of your journey. Be great examples for our younger players, and teach them what it takes to be a Hornell Football player.
Thank you to all our cheerleaders and coaches for all your hard work and support of this program. I enjoyed taking this journey with you, and wish you all the best as you move your program forward.
Thank you to all the Hornell staff that work behind the scenes not only for our program, but for all Hornell athletes. Thank you to Shannon, Ray, Alan, and all your staff for the work to make our fields and interior spaces always ready, clean, and safe. Thank you to Steve and your transportation department for all your efforts to get us where we need to be when we need to be there, never an easy feat. Thank you to our Hornell teachers that went above and beyond to work with our players in their commitment to keep their grades up and eligible. No successful program exists without support from your teachers and logistics staff, and I appreciate all your help over the last 20 years.
I have had the absolute honor to work for and with some of the best coaches around. I learned so much from my mentor Coach Mastin and the other coaches I worked with on his staff, and will be forever grateful. I will apply all that I learned in my next coaching opportunity. To all my assistant coaches, a simple thank you does not do justice to all that is owed to you. Nothing that I accomplished as a head coach would’ve been possible without all of you, and I am forever in your debt for your service you gave to me and our program.
To my wife Erin and my children Logan, Harrison, and Evelyn, thank you for always allowing me to do something I love. I can never make up for the years of lack of help around the house or missed bedtime hugs and kisses, a difficult acknowledgement of any coach. Without the love and support of my family, I would never be able to make the necessary commitment to my football family.
Half my life has been dedicated to Hornell Football, and I don’t have the words to describe all that this program has meant to me. I can honestly say that every single day spent with my players and coaches has brought me joy. The experience of being a part of 3 state championships, 4 more sectional championships, and being able to bring home two of those as a head coach means more than I can say. While I’m saddened that I cannot finish my career here as I had always pictured, I am a firm believer that when one door closes another opens. I wish the program all the success in the world, and look forward to life’s next great challenge.
– Coach Werner
A few of the many comments to Werner on Facebook:
Brad O’Konski: You were one of my favorite coaches and it was an honor to suit up with you behind us. I never experienced you as the head coach, but I know as our line coach, when you spoke we listened. When you taught, we learned. And pre game/halftime, when you yelled, we rallied. Best of luck in your future endeavors, coach. You’ll do great.
Ismail Mehr: Words won’t do Justice In thanking you for all your time put into Hornell Football, thank you for allowing me to of been part of something near and dear to my heart; but more so than the coaching I’m grateful for our friendship!
Adam Dwyer: Thank you Coach Werner for the probably thousand or better hours you spend per year coaching and advocating for this program. Your coaching role never started in August and ended in October-November. It is year round. We appreciate your family allowing you the time to commit yourself. You are a great coach, and I have learned so much from you, and enjoyed my time getting back into the program.
Regi Gambino: I am reading this post with incredible sadness. I was truly blessed to be a part of Head Coach Gene Mastin’s program, and then onto your program as Head Coach – along with a couple years of you as my Athletic director!! What a great ride we all had together!! You have lead the Hornell Football program as the Head Coach -and as a Man with amazing talent – devotion- loyalty- experience-knowledge-And LOVE.
Love of the Game – Love of the Challenge-
Love of the Dedication-the Motivation- the Work Ethic – Love of the Endless Hours you put in ….. but the very biggest that stands out for me is the Love of your Players!! I’ve watched you over the years give your Entire Heart and Soul to Our Hornell Red Raider Football Program! I am so Proud to have coached with you and for you – you Always treated my cheer teams with respect and Excitement for our Success!!!! We ALL loved you – respected you and throughly enjoyed every second of your time as Head Coach !!! I am saddened that it has come to an unexpected end – however I do Believe that you will go on to do great things Erik Werner!!! All my love to you, Erin and your Family !!!! Reg
Steve Girolmo: Best wishes on the next stage of your journey Erik! Whatever challenge is in your future, I’m sure you’ll get after it with the same focus on preparation and diligence that has been a hallmark of your success. Good luck coach, job well done.
Steve Donlon: What a time we had! I’ve had so much fun coaching in Hornell with you. You’re one of best! Doors always open down the road. We can get the band back together!
Dustin Johnson: Thank you Coach! You played a very important roll in some of the life lessons I’ve learned and times that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. As a team, we have done things I can tell my children and some day grandchildren about! Good luck on whatever you take on next!!
Tyler Parker: You are an amazing coach! I’m blessed to have you in my life. Your constant motivation and encouragement pushed me to heights I never dreamed I’d reach. Thank you for inspiring me to be excellent in all that I do. Thank you for seeing and bringing out the best in me. Good luck coach Werner!