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Solvay football goes back to work again

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."

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