Aug 31, 2008 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Whatever personnel might be on the field, and whoever might be situated in the league at that time, the Solvay football team will do the same thing– suit up in August, work hard in practice, then go out in September and watch the work pay off.
In a scene that can prove quite volatile, with dynasties rising and falling with swift velocity, the Bearcats have, for the most part, parked itself at or near the top of the Section III Class B ranks.
So when that didn’t happen two years ago, it proved quite a shock. Refusing to fret about it, though, head coach Phil Merrill and his players got back to work and, in 2007, got everything possible out of their talent as it went 7-2 and reached the Class B semifinals before falling to Cazenovia.
A seven-win campaign in ’08 might be a stretch. No less than 16 seniors departed, and Merrill said they took a lot with them.
“That (senior) group had outstanding leadership,” he said. “You can find guys to plug holes, but you don’t replace that kind of leadership easily.”
What doesn’t help is an enrollment dip that has created a “transition period”, in Merrill’s words. He started practice Aug. 18 with just 28 players on the varsity roster, down from years past, though their attendance and effort has been first-rate.
The departures hit hardest in the backfield, where Ben Carl and Jesse Dineen carried the load at running back. Since they could do this, quarterback Jonathan Orioli could just run the offense and not assume a heavy load.
Now, as a senior, Orioli must do much more, but Merrill said he’s ready for it because of his extensive off-season work and his approach to the game.
“We hope to utilize him a bit more,” said Merrill. “He’s very aggressive, has no fear and he’s in top shape.”
Steve Fortino, a returning senior, gets the first shot at succeeding Carl at fullback, and there’s plenty of help. Anthony Liquori, who missed most of the ’07 season due to ACL surgery, is healthy now, while Chris Hoffman and Jordan Cavaliere provide further depth.
Over at wide receiver, Alex Nappi moves from the JV ranks, and Brian Wright will play here while also backing up Orioli. Senior Tom Hayes is not a big tight end, but he has, in Merrill’s words, a “tremendous pair of hands” and could make for a valuable target.
Tom Bradley, at left tackle, is the lone returning offensive lineman, a fine 215-pound athlete who is also a first-rate wrestler. Other than Bradley and Matt Weber (who takes over at guard), none of the current lineman has any varsity experience.
Injured a year ago, Sam Lima returns for his senior season and will start at center, while three-sport star R.J. Lostumbo moves in at right tackle. Kyle Groth joins Weber at guard, with Justin Hartle and Tom Sansone ready to fill in anywhere on the line, if necessary.
Solvay utilizes a 4-4 defensive alignment, not trying to complicate it too much so players can learn the terms before making adjustments later on.
At 5-10 and 240 pounds, varsity newcomer C.J. Brooks makes for an imposing tackle, and Darrow Davis will join him once a recovery from hernia surgery is complete. Bradley is a stalwart end, with Hartle and Sansone also capable of starting.
The Bearcats look strong at linebacker, with Fortino anchored in the middle, Hayes on one side and junior Taylor DelPeruto (who started as a sophomore) returning, too. Cavaliere could join the group on selected downs, or roam back to strong safety.
If Cavaliere is in the secondary, that would give Orioli a rest, with Alex Poplawski also part of the formula. Nappi, Hoffman and Parker are battling to see who starts at cornerback.
That new line and backfield will get tested quickly Friday night, when the Bearcats host Chittenango at Earl Hadley Stadium. A trip to Rochester Sept. 13 to face Bishop Kearney follows before Class B West league action begins.
With Westhill still dangerous, Marcellus and Skaneateles improving, Homer reloaded with strong young players and Phoenix a pest, B West will have no easy assignments.
Still, this is Solvay, and Merrill said he expects this group to achieve a lot, just like so many in the past.
“If we came out of the first two games in good health and they can hang in there (mentally), I think we’ll be strong,” said Merrill.