For most of its existence, the East Syracuse-Minoa football team presented itself as an eager challenger - sometimes good enough to get into the Section III playoffs, but never able to break the stranglehold teams like Whitesboro and Fulton had on the Class A ranks.
But all of that changed in 2006.
Blessed with a clock-chewing ground game and a ferocious defense full of senior talent, the Spartans won its first sectional championship since the current playoff system was established in 1979.
In fact, ESM's two defeats came to Geneva (in the regular season) and Corning East (in the Class A regional fianls), and both of them went on to win their respective state titles.
So as the Spartans gathered again for 2007, it carried the title of defending sectional champions, a stature that head coach Kevin DeParde said means a lot -- to a point.
"It does change the mindset," he said. "The expectations among themselves (the players) is at a different level. Still, that was last year's team. This group has to chase their own title."
And in this chase, ESM's offense must carry the load early, since all 11 defensive starters must be replaced. Also, center Brett Adams decided not to return, concentrating instead on his academics (he's a high honors student) and wrestling, his main sport.
Mick Letcher returns at quarterback, which by itself is quite important. Though smaller than most quarterbacks, Letcher has absolute command of the Spartans' offense, and supreme athletic skills based on his own exploits as a wrestler, which includes a fourth-place finish in the 2007 state tournament at 140 pounds and a gold medal at this summer's Empire State Games.
"He's a great leader and a bright boy that commands respect," said DeParde. "Under center, he doesn't make a mistake, and his competitive nature is phenomenal."