Aug 28, 2007 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
When Dave Mancuso took over as head coach of the Liverpool football team a year ago, his intent was to build the program back to the elite level it had enjoyed for decades, even if it took a little bit of time.
As it turned out, the building process was a quick one.
Displaying an uncanny ability to pull out close games against quality opponents, the Warriors went from 2-7 to 7-2, going to the Section III Class AA semifinals for the first time since 2000 before falling to Rome Free Academy.
Mancuso said that even he was surprised by the turnaround, and openly wonders if the element of surprise is gone.
“We exceeded our own expectations,” he said. “I don’t know if we can do that again. We’re cautiously optimistic, but we like the kids we have.”
What Liverpool doesn’t have is Lonnie Johnson, the running back who topped 1,500 yards last fall and, at times, carried the team’s offense.
The hope is that a group of backs can match Johnson’s production. Dom Caruso and Paul Stanzione will both see time at tailback, while Ricky Azzoto succeeds Matt Root at fullback, with help from sophomore Michael Donitzen.
Also, the Warriors need to replace Mike Buckenmeyer at quarterback, and that question remains open going into the regular season.
Senior Matt Faiello is still recovering from a torn ACL suffered in 2006 while playing lacrosse. While Faiello recuperated, Tyler Kamide played a full season as the JV quarterback. Both candidates bring something different to the position, as Faiello possesses a stronger arm and Kamide possesses a better ability to escape the pocket and run.
For all the questions elsewhere, the Warriors are quite certain about what senior wide receiver T.J. Davis can do.
Also a standout in basketball and track, Davis has the right combination of speed and size to make big plays, as evidenced by the fact that he returned two kicks for touchdowns in last year’s 43-36 double-overtime victory over Corcoran.
Every Liverpool opponent will keep an eye on Davis whenever he is on the field, so fellow receiver Mark Sperduti and tight end Mike Suatoni must do their part to take pressure off him.
Transition is also present on Liverpool’s offensive line, where three starters return, but big tackles Joe Stotsky and Jon Thomas need to be replaced.
To compensate, senior captain Pat Single (275 pounds) moves from center to tackle. Single and Rich Neale (265 punds) are both powerful forces, as shown by the fact that they did 600-pound squats in off-season weight training.
Dan Wentworth (235 pounds) takes Single’s center spot, flanked by guards Richard Magnanti (250 pounds) and Sean Kiewra (240 pounds). As seen, no lineman has the bulk Stotsky and Thomas (both of whom topped 300 pounds) provided, but their combined size and athletic ability could make this group even better.
Liverpool benefits from having lots of specialists on its four-man defensive front. Only Neale goes both ways, as he starts at tackle next to sophomore Michael Storie, already a force at 240 pounds. Outside, Chris Murphy works at end, as does junior Sean Chayban.
Suatoni, a defensive lineman in ’06, moves back into strong linebacker corps where he and Azzoto start outside and Stanzione works in the middle. Jervey Boatwright has starting experience, too, while Donitzen, Ryan Bragan and James Schumacher add further depth.
In the secondary, the Warriors have more specialists, as Zach Crotty and Paul Bassett are locked in at cornerback and Mark Sperduti works at free safety. Davis and Caruso could both start at strong safety.
Of Liverpool’s seven regular-season games, only two are at home, since it moved the Sept. 8 clash with Baldwinsville to the Carrier Dome. Both are high-profile, though, as the Warriors will host West Genesee (where Mancuso was head coach) on Sept. 14 and meet archrival Cicero-North Syracuse on Oct. 5.
Beyond that, though, the greater challenge for Liverpool is the fact that the element of surprise is gone. Teams will gear up again for the Warriors, and whether Mancuso and his players can match that fire will determine if it goes deep into the playoffs again.