Solvay battles to be Class B contender again

Gone, perhaps for good, are the days where the Solvay football program could gather as many as 100 players amid the natural ampitheater of Earl Hadley Stadium (better known as "The Pit") when practices began in August.

Also gone, for the time being, is the stranglehold the Bearcats once held over the rest of the Class B West division. Westhill has been in charge for a while now, and not since 2003 has Solvay played for a Section III championship.

Still, head coach Phil Merrill wants no sympathy.

"We always expect to win and be successful," he said. "We don't want anyone feeling sorry for us."

Indeed, glimmers of hope can be found. After a rough 2009 regular season (2-5), the Bearcats went to Chittenango and stunned the Bears 28-21 in the opening round of the Class B playoffs before falling to Marcellus in the semifinals.

And when camp started for the 2010 season, 53 players were on hand. What's more, said head coach Phil Merrill, everyone appears to be on board for the long haul, as no one has dropped out early.

"Everyone has stuck with it," Merrill said. "That's key for camaraderie and team unity."

It also helps to have a solid core of talent back. At 6-2, Ronn Bidwell, who succeeds Brian Wright at quarterback, is taller than Solvay passers of recent vintage, giving him a better chance to look over defenders and find downfield targets.

Long known as a traditional, grind-it-out-on-the-ground program, the Bearcats will mix things up more this season. That means passes thrown to Bidwell's twin brother, Ryan, as well as Mark Schafer and sophomore Carmen Sarno, who could line up at receiver or tight end.

Not that the Bearcats have forgotten the ground game. Playoff hero Taylor Delperuto is gone, but Paul Clisson returns and could line up at tailback or fullback, depending on the situation. Though fellow back John Savo is a sophomore, he saw plenty of varsity action as a freshman, so he won't be overwhelmed.

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