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.