Aug 26, 2007 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
To be certain, the Fayetteville-Manlius football team has serious work to do, and major challenges it must overcome, to achieve all of its goals in 2007.
But if any team is ready for it, the Hornets are.
In the course of the 2006 campaign, F-M played seven of its nine games against opponents that were, or would be, in the state Class AA rankings.
Despite this, the Hornets overcame an 0-3 start, fought its way into the Section III playoffs, then jolted the entire Central New York football scene by shocking two-time defending champion CBA 43-35 in the opening round.
Eight days later, the season ended with a 21-14 loss to Auburn, who was on its way to an improbable state title, in a game not decided until the final play.
Head coach Paul Muench said his team experienced every possible challenge a season ago and, as such, is perfectly prepared for the road ahead.
“We’re not going to see anything better than that (our 2006 schedule),” he said. “And we’ve become the type of program that, if we play well, we have a shot at a championship.”
F-M has a full plate of experienced players — more than 25 seniors, in fact, on a 53-man roster. More importantly, one of those seniors works under center.
Buddy Leathley’s progress last fall reflected that of his team — measured at first, then rapid and transforming. By season’s end, he had become one of the area’s top passers, as he showed with his fine performance in the CBA playoff win.
Muench said that Leathley could be even better than F-M predecessors Zak Carter and Isaac Bailey because he learned plenty from watching both of them as he grew up, then applied his own talents to round out the package.
“The kid is just a force and a great competitor,” said Muench. “You want him in a big game.”
If the Hornets face any serious offensive challenge, it comes from the men Leathley throws to. Three top receivers — Scott Kleinklaus, Ethan Gilbert and Pat Lee — all graduated, leaving senior captain Shane Bush as the lone returning starter. At least Billy Donlon and Chris Quinn are ready to step in and replace Lee at tight end.
What’s more, F-M has a scary surplus of running backs it could convert into receivers. Lacking a single, dominant runner in the Damien Rhodes-Colin Simmons mode, the Hornets make up for it by having all kinds of choices.
Austin Straub emerged late in ’06 as a force, scoring three touchdowns in the CBA playoff game. He leads a talented group of tailbacks that includes Louis Pascarella, Anthony Krizman, Mike Rosenbaum, Matt Taylor and Matt Fallico. After missing time in ’06 due to injuries, Pascarella and Krizman are particularly ready to shine again.
Not only that, but F-M has two strong fullbacks, as Joe Blasting and Will Porter will take turns pounding out yards and providing timely blocks.
Leathley is well-protected on the offensive line, especially at tackle. At 6-9 and 320 pounds, Greg Gaulin is a towering presence on the right side and is getting lots of looks from Division I schools as he slides into Meril Tili’s old spot, while Mike Riccione returns at left tackle and, though smaller (245 pounds), is just as imposing.
Kevin Cooper succeeds Steve Romans at center. Colin Anderson returns at guard, with Dan Lorenzini set to grab the other guard spot. And if any of them need a rest, Joe Novak and Karl Thomson could step in.
Even with Lee and Tili gone, F-M is still fine at defensive end because Riccione is around, drawing his own college interest for his pass-rushing ability. Donlon moves up from linebacker to take the other end spot, while Thomson and Dan Abbott start at defensive tackle.
Blasting, another one of the Hornets’ team captains, returns to start at outside linebacker, as Porter works on the other side and Fallico plays middle linebacker. Any time it is needed, Dan Cerio could step in at linebacker or safety and do an effective job.
Andrew Vossler, at safety, is set to assume the leadership and big-play role in the secondary after Gilbert’s departure. Vossler and Straub make for a strong pair of safeties, allowing for a rotation at the cornerback spots as Pascarella, Krizman, Rosenbaum and Jim Barger all could see time.
F-M moved its opener against Vestal to Saturday night at 7 p.m., so as not to conflict with the Syracuse University football game on Friday. So begins an interesting slate that includes a much-anticipated rematch with CBA on Sept. 14 and a trip to West Genesee on Sept. 28 where Shane Bush plays against the team where his father, Steve, is the head coach.
As they move along in 2007, the Hornets will attempt to take all the challenging lessons it absorbed in 2006, and turn them into even greater glory.