Sep 01, 2008 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Around the Fayetteville-Manlius football program, the question is no longer centered around whether the Hornets can become a contender — that part is an established fact.
Five times in the last seven years under the direction of head coach Paul Muench, F-M has made it to the Section III Class AA playoff semifinal round, going to the title game three times in that span.
Still, the Hornets haven’t won a sectional title since 2001, taking a narrow 16-13 loss to Cicero-North Syracuse in last year’s semifinals. So when it takes the field Sunday against Binghamton in the Kickoff Classic at the Carrier Dome, F-M has a clear mindset of what it wants to do.
“We believe that, in any year, anyone can win a championship,” said Muench. “And we’re not going to settle for lower goals. I’m thrilled to have kids who love the game and show up with a great attitude.
Achieving high goals, even for a loaded 58-man varsity roster, is made more difficult by the roster turnover every high-school team faces.
For F-M, that meant the departure of 27 seniors, including stars like Buddy Leathley, Mike Rosenbaum, Anthony Krizman, Will Porter, Shane Bush, Andrew Vossler, Billy Donlon, Louie Pascarella, Joe Blasting, Mike Riccione, Colin Anderson and Greg Gaulin.
There’s a new face under center. T.J. Earley waited two years for Leathley to graduate and, as a senior, finally gets his chance at quarterback. At 6-2 and 180 pounds, Earley, is according to Muench, more of a classic drop-back passer than Leathley was.
“He runs the offense well, reads (defenses) well and is an accurate passer,” said Muench.
Earley can afford to pass more because the Hornets’ running game has the potential to be explosive in the Damien Rhodes-Colin Simmons tradition.
Before he ever got to play in 2007, Matt Taylor broke his leg, and didn’t suit up until lacrosse season. Now all is healed, and Taylor is primed to take over at tailback opposite fullback Matt Fallico, creating the “Matt field”. Even Fallico’s backup, sophomore Matt Moro, fits the theme, though some variety comes from reserve backs Marcus LaBarge and Rick Arvon.
To replace accomplished wide receivers like Bush, F-M will have a deep group of contenders. Joey Hamel leads the way, but Ollie Etman, Chris Fieschko, Zach Petti and Troy Arthur could fit in, too. In returning senior Chris Quinn and junior Luke Sementelli, the Hornets have a pair of big, tough targets at tight end.
Two key offensive linemen return — Kevin Cooper (235 pounds) at center and Karl Thomson (245 pounds) at tackle. Sophomore Evan Butcher (230 pounds) is a young and talented tackle that will succeed Gaulin, while Matt Strong, Vinny Nguyen, Brandon Wandersee, Dan Loffler and converted fullback Dave Stedman all have a chance to play at guard.
As usual, F-M will run a 4-3 defense, where the strength is in the middle.
Fallico was an All-Central New York selection last year at middle linebacker and returns to anchor the show. He is, as Muench puts it, “an old-school linebacker with new-school speed”. Two juniors, Kyle Green and JeremyMeguira, will flank Fallico at outside linebacker.
Thomson and Dan Abbott make for a pair of tough, experienced defensive tackles, and Muench is very excited about the speed and pass-rush ability of junior Ken Jones and sophomore Ryan Jones (no relation), both newcomers from the JV ranks that take over at defensive end.
In the secondary, success might hinge on how senior Jim Barger fares in succeeding Vossler at strong safety. Mike O’Neill is alongside at free safety and is also the backup quarterback behind Earley. Taylor (who played at cornerback as a sophomore) is back in the defensive backfield, with 6-1 Mike Lee making for a tall, imposing corner in his own right.
Since three of the last four state Class AA champions (CBA in 2004, Auburn in 2006, West Genesee in 2007) came from the Section III ranks, F-M does not need to be reminded of how deep and competitive football has become in this area.
Yet the Hornets have stayed right with them, and even though new starters are everywhere, the potential is there to win again, get to the playoffs again — and maybe, go just a bit further than in years past.
Speaking of the past, on Sept. 13, when F-M plays Henninger at 7:30 in the home opener, it will be “Hornet Pride Night”, featuring a reunion of the 1998 Section III Class A championship team. All F-M alumni can attend the game free of charge and enjoy a party at Hullars in Fayetteville after the game.