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.