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.