Aug 28, 2009 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
In some places, a losing football team can be understandable, or explained away, or put in its proper context, relative to other matters.
Solvay is not one of those places.
Granted, the difference in 2008 between a 2-7 mark and something better — say, 4-5 — was minuscule, in the form of one-point defeats to Homer and Marcellus.
Still, it was a long, long way from the regular Class B West league titles the Bearcats used to ring up earlier in the decade, and both head coach Phil Merrill and his players knew it.
“If you coach long enough, you go through those types of seasons,” Merrill said. “But still, here (at Solvay), it’s unacceptable.
So when practices for the 2009 season began on Aug. 17, Solvay’s players, especially the 13 that return from last fall, arrived with one purpose — to put the roar back into the Bearcats.
“The players know what we expect from them,” Merrill said. “They know it (going 2-7) was something they don’t want to have happen again.”
Solvay will have to do it with a new quarterback, though he’s a familiar face. Senior Brian Wright has been on the varsity team since his freshman year, but had to wait his turn behind Jon Orioli before finally getting his chance in ’09. At 5-11 and 170 pounds, Wright is expected to throw the ball more than Orioli did, though the Bearcats still want to run the ball first.
To succeed 1,000-yard performer Anthony Liquori, Solvay won’t rely on one running back. Instead, Taylor Delperuto, another varsity veteran assuming a larger offensive role, will share duties with promising sophomore Robert Jackson. Paul Clisson moves up from the JV ranks and takes over at fullback.
Wingback Chris Hoffman should get a lot of carries, too, when he’s not lining up wide. Jeremy Parker and Xavier Nappi expect to be Wright’s main receiving targets, while tight end Mark Schafer has a tough duty, trying to replace the departed Tom Hayes.
Traditionally, Solvay has owned the line of scrimmage. To do so again, the Bearcats’ offensive line needs to stay healthy, especially the right side of the line, where captain R.J. Lostumbo (250 pounds) is at tackle and Kyle Groth (240 pounds) is at guard.
Senior Scott Harris (220 pounds) takes over at center, while track standout C.J. Brooks (265 pounds) is at left tackle. Jack DeGonzaque, Kevin Fox and Joe Watkins all could see time at tackle or guard, too.
Merrill said the big key to Solvay’s revival lies on the defensive side, a place where opponents used to crumble — but found many different ways to exploit the Bearcats’ weaknesses in ’08.
With the increased emphasis on stopping the passing game, Solvay will rely on a quartet of cornerbacks — returning starters Parker and Hoffman, plus Nappi and John Savo. Just a freshman, Savo could also move to safety, where Schafer and Tyler Avery reside.
Up at linebacker, Delperuto and Mike Warne give Solvay a pair of strong options outside, while Clisson works inside with John Priano, another talented freshman. Groth could either move to linebacker or play at defensive tackle with Brooks, with Joe Watkins and Kevin Fox the main threats at defensive end.
Solvay has a high-profile opener against defending Class B champion Oneida Friday night, one of just three home games at Earl Hadley Stadium this fall. In a five-team B West league, the Bearcats don’t play its biggest rivals, Marcellus or Westhill, until Oct. 11 and 18, respectively.
“We have unknown commodities, a fragile composition of players that need early-season confidence,” Merrill said. “Kids who are green will have to concentrate right now. To succeed, we have to execute, and make less mistakes.”