Aug 31, 2008 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
In the course of a single magical autumn, the West Genesee football team transformed itself from a program of consistent irrelevance to one ended a two-decade championship drought – then proudly claimed the state Class AA title, too.
Blessed with the expert coaching of Steve Bush and the tremendous performances of players like Tim Moran and Luke Cometti, the Wildcats excelled in all facets of the game.
Moran, who had never started a game prior to ’07, showed a veteran’s poise, throwing for 2,505 yards and executing a pro-style offense to near-perfection, especially in late-game situations. A multitude of skill players contributed. The offensive line offered consistent, first-rate protection.
A quick and aggressive defense hit opponents hard and forced a slew of turnovers. And whenever it was required, Cometti came up with the big kick that decided three different games, including an epic sectional final against Cicero-North Syracuse.
Once in the state playoffs, WG didn’t stop until it had vanquished Monroe-Woodbury in the Carrier Dome on Nov. 25, 2007, to the delight of thousands that came from Camillus to witness it. Now a school that had built its athletic reputation with a powerhouse lacrosse program had conquered the gridiron.
Others took notice — most noticeably the NFL’s Miami Dolphins. It hired Bush as an offensive quality control coach, forcing the Wildcats to search for a new sideline leader to handle the increased expectations a championship season brings.
As it turned out, WG didn’t have to look far.
At the insistence of returning players, the Wildcats promoted offensive line coach Joe Corley to the top spot last spring, ensuring continuity within a program that discovered, a season ago, just how good it could be.
“The kids were very supportive and they wanted the staff to stay in place,” said Corley. “It made for a smooth transition period.”
When practices for the 2008 season started on Aug. 18, Corley faced a delicate balancing act. He said he wanted his players to remember the hard work that went into winning a state title, but reminded them that now the slate was clean.
“You don’t want the kids to forget about all the things they did (in 2007),” he said. “At the same time, you want them to focus on this year.”
“This year” begins Friday night, at Auburn, as the last two state AA champs meet at Holland Stadium. When they kick off, a new man will be under center, faced with the near-impossible task of matching Moran’s magic.
Jim Marks, a senior captain, takes over at quarterback. Like Moran, he’ll get just one season to succeed at WG, and Corley said he likes the progress Marks has made.
“He’s very mature, athletic and confident, and he’s coming along quickly,” said Corley.
Running the same pro-style offense (with some modifications) that worked so well under Moran, Marks has a trio of running backs to help out.
Ryan McConnell and Jeremy Jones return to bring lots of speed to the backfield, while Sirron Wright is poised to break through after starring in the JV ranks last fall. Pulling off a unique and rare triple, McConnell played in three state finals last year (in football, ice hockey and lacrosse) and also appeared in the Empire State Games during the summer.
Joe Fazio became an All-State wide receiver in Moran’s presence. Now he returns for his senior season, as does Jake Fietkiewicz. John Glesener, a California transfer who keyed the lacrosse team’s state title run in the spring, gives Marks another target, as does Tim Stagnitta, Justin Capella, Josh Cruz, Matt McCabe and Mike Carter. Kevin Petrick succeeds Cometti at tight end.
On the offensive line that Corley helped guide to glory, senior captain Stefan Cavedine returns at center, while Nick Pedrotti and Mike Gagnon man the tackle spots. Senior Craig Simmons is set at guard, but the other spot could go to Vinny Lamanna, Brett Cummings or Justin St. Louis. All are likely to see action, though.
Cavedine goes both ways, also serving as an anchor of the Wildcats’ four-man defensive front at tackle, flanked by Pedrotti. Simmons will start at left end, while Christos Dimkos and newcomer Nadi Badwan battle to see who goes at right end.
As a hard-hitting outside linebacker, team captain Dave Hildman leads a deep pool at that position. McCabe and Mike Simiele are also working outside, while Petrick and Tom Flynn patrol the inside, with depth provided by Gagnon and Mike Moran (Tim’s younger brother).
All through 2007, Fietkiewicz was a turnover-producing machine at cornerback. He’s back to lead the Wildcats’ secondary where Carter, Capella, Cruz and Onondaga High School transfer Antonio Walker could all flourish. At safety, Glesener and Connor Zeman take over, with Zeman also serving as Marks’ backup quarterback.
Of course, as long as the Wildcats are on the field in 2008, they will hear comparisons with the fairy-tale run of the previous autumn.
But at least with Corley at the helm, and many of the heroes of that state title run (McConnell, Jones, Fazio, Fietkiewicz, Cavedine, Simmons, Hildman) still in place, there’s reason to think that, at the least, another shot at a sectional title is within reach.
“There’s a target on our backs,” said Corley. “But we definitely think we are capable. This year’s team has the potential for a lot of great things.”