Aug 26, 2009 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
How does a football team, accustomed to winning and playing deep into the Section III Class AA playoffs, suddenly find itself at 2-6?
Fayetteville-Manlius — or at least its head coach, Paul Muench — thinks the answer lies not in effort or heart, but in smaller details that, left unattended, can turn possible victory into crushing defeat.
“We fumbled too much and committed too many penalties,” Muench said. “Teams in our league will jump on that. Those little things do matter. (In the past) we prided ourselves on that, and not doing them cost us games.”
In fact, it kept F-M out of the playoffs in 2008 after a seven-year stretch where it reached the sectional semifinals five times and the championship game three times.
So the 2009 group of Hornets struck on an obvious theme, “Unfinished Business”, and spent the off-season doing its usual amount of work in the weight room and, more importantly, eyeing those fundamentals that, if carried out, could turn them into a winner again.
It helps, too, to have a strong influx of talent from the JV Hornets, who were going 7-1 last fall while the varsity endured so much heartache.
John Wittig leads the newcomers, taking over at quarterback after T.J. Earley’s graduation. Muench said that Wittig (5-10, 165 pounds), with a solid throwing arm and lots of speed to move out of the pocket and run, reminds him of Buddy Leathley, one of the more successful quarterbacks in F-M history.
Wittig has a strong group of receivers to whom he can throw. Mike O’Neil is an All-Central New York candidate, someone Muench said will get the ball many different ways this season. And if defenses try to double-team O’Neil, Mike Lee, lacrosse star Ari Waffle or 6-2, 210-pound tight end Louis Muraco might get open.
F-M is fairly set in the backfield. Matt Moro, who started as a sophomore in ’08, will get many more carries now that Matt Taylor has departed. Kyle Greer returns at fullback.
The Hornets have a big offensive line across the board. Evan Butcher, at 260 pounds, anchors the group at left tackle, as does 230-pound center Dan Murphy. Rob Belanger also reaches 260 pounds, while Kevin Putnam, Jeremy Meguiera and Brandon Wandersee add further depth.
Since it has traditionally been strong at linebacker, F-M tends to use a 4-3 defense. Kenny Jones (6-3, 270 pounds) makes for an imposing end, while Ryan Jones (no relation), the other end, tops out at 180 pounds, using speed to get to the opposing quarterback. In between them, 300-pound senior Sam Wells could dominate at tackle, next to Tyler Stalter.
Greer gets the chance to succeed Matt Fallico at middle linebacker, flanked by Muraco, Moro and Meguiera, all of whom will be in the rotation. O’Neil, at free safety, leads a solid secondary where sophomore Connor Chen is drawing a lot of attention for his work at strong safety. Lee and Marcus LeBarge work at the cornerback slots.
F-M confronts yet another bruising schedule, playing its first three games in a span of 13 days against Liverpool (in the Kickoff Classic at the Carrier Dome), Baldwinsville and Auburn. It also has just three home games, playing Corcoran and Henninger back-to-back before finishing at Utica Proctor and West Genesee.
Amid all this, Muench is showing cautious optimism, saying his team is paying attention to all the details, large and small, but that there’s no idea where it’s all leading.
“Our guys are showing great purpose and an eye on detail,” Muench said. “We’re still one of the teams people need to take into account (in Class AA). We certainly have confidence, but a big challenge is ahead of us.”