Aug 27, 2010 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Two years of relative struggle pushed the Fayetteville-Manlius football team back into the anonymous pack of Section III Class AA programs, a place it has not occupied for most of head coach Paul Muench’s 11-year tenure.
But the Hornets are not alone in those struggles. As Muench pointed out, seven different teams (F-M, Henninger, Corcoran, CBA, Auburn, West Genesee and Baldwinsville) have won sectional titles in the last 10 years, meaning that success is difficult for anyone to maintain.
Having fallen, F-M might be in a prime position to climb again in 2010. A large cast of returning players, combined with massive roster turnovers throughout the AA ranks and division realignment, leaves the Hornets quite eager for the season to start.
“We do feel that there’s an opportunity,” Muench said. “We really like this team and where we are going.”
Part of F-M’s issues in 2009 (it went 2-5 in the regular season and lost in the first round of the AA playoffs to Baldwinsville) could be attributed to seeing its starting quarterback, John Wittig, injure his knee in the second game and miss the rest of his junior season. It forced senior Mike O’Neil, normally a receiver, to take the QB duties.
Wittig, a left-hander, is back at full health and ready to take over again. Muench said he is the fastest quarterback he’s coached at F-M, equally capable of making a big play by taking off than by throwing deep.
For the tough yards, the Hornets turn to three-year starting fullback Matt Moro, who heads up a strong corps of runners. Ryan Jones will take on a larger role at tailback, while Andrew Fletcher and talented sophomore Sean Bright both could step in and run, too.
Though better known for his work on the lacrosse field, senior Ari Waffle is also F-M’s top returning wide receiver. Austin Perez, a 6-2 sophomore, could have an instant impact as a wideout, as could junior Sawyer Dew, while Louis Muraco and Connor Chen make for a solid pair of tight ends.
F-M plans to use seven offensive linemen with its rotation. Tackles Evan Butcher and Dan Murphy serve as the anchors, Murphy moving over from center, while Kevin Putnam adds further experience at guard. Justin Bondor replaces Murphy at center, with David Nuzzo, Jason Abdo and Will Twichell all expected to see plenty of playing time.
One thing the Hornets found late in the ’09 campaign was that it had an outstanding defensive end in Brent Strickland. The 6-3, 210-pound senior, is, in Muench’s words, “very quick and very physical”, and could draw double teams all season, leaving room for fellow end Connor Chen to get to the quarterback.
Another great story is the physical transformation of defensive tackle Sam Wells. Having played at 310 pounds a season ago, Wells dropped 70 pounds through improved diet and conditioning and could become a bigger force in the middle, with help from Murphy and Butcher.
Moro is a possible All-Central New York candidate at linebacker, playing outside or inside so that offenses can’t always pick him up. Muraco returns, too, with Twichell and Mike Hartnett offering depth and Chen another intriguing possibility.
An experienced secondary includes cornerback Ryan Courtwright, whose interception in overtime against West Genesee clinched a playoff spot last fall. Waffle and Jimmy Krizman (Wittig’s backup under center) also work at cornerback, while Sean Bright and Scott Barger come back at the safety positions, helped by Billy Patrick and Ryan Simmons.
Unlike recent years, which included tough non-league games and long road trips, the Hornets get four home games this fall and don’t have to travel any further than Syracuse, since its road games are against Henninger, Fowler and Corcoran.
So F-M has a deep and talented roster, a favorable schedule, and plenty of opponents with far less certainty about its rosters. This could lead to something big.
“We’re aiming for a very good season,” Muench said.