Aug 30, 2010 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Two themes have continually emerged during Dave Mancuso’s tenure as head coach of the Liverpool football team – and both have nagged at the Warriors’ faithful.
Ever since Mancuso took over in 2006, Liverpool has enjoyed consistent success in the regular season, only to get knocked out in the Section III Class AA playoffs, including three straight exits in the semifinals.
The frustration only grew in 2009, when the Warriors again emerged as a title contender, but saw star running back Greg Bell sidelined by a late-season injury and, in the opening round of the AA playoffs, fell again, this time in a wild 40-36 classic to Henninger.
Lingering over all these proceedings was the other theme that ate at Liverpool – namely, its inability to play on its own campus.
Ever since the condemnation of the high school’s turf field in 2007, the Warriors have played two seasons on the road, its “home” games at sites ranging from Central Square to Solvay to last year’s stint in the Carrier Dome.
Finally, a new turf field is in place. And when Liverpool hosts defending Class AA champion Baldwinsville on Sept. 17, it will be the team’s first true home game in 35 months.
“It’s right to have a home field, and for the kids to have a true home-game atmosphere,” Mancuso said. “For them, it’s the experience of a lifetime, and it may give us a bit of an edge. They just can’t wait (to play on it).”
As if to add to the anticipation, the team wasn’t allowed on the turf until last Thursday, two days before a scrimmage against Utica Proctor, so the team practiced on the adjacent grass fields. Mancuso said most of the players, and parents, kept on asking when they could get to work on the new field – and now that part of the wait is over.
All this serves as the backdrop for the Warriors’ 2010 season, which was a challenge without all the home-field issues. Liverpool had to endure the departure of 32 seniors, including standouts like Bell, Mike Donitzen, Cam Jones, Jesse Gates, Jason Osborne, Brian Linger and Brian Wilbur.
To replace Jones at quarterback, the Warriors turn to senior Luigi Barletta. Mancuso said that Barletta has all the physical attributes to succeed under center and only lacks game experience.
There is no shortage of options in Liverpool’s running game. Tyland Thompson starts at tailback after stepping in for the injured Bell late in the ’09 season and turning lots of heads in the process, with Jordan Stenson, Elijah Johnson and Josh Withrow part of the rotation. Raymar Temple succeeds Donitzen at the fullback slot.
The wide receiver spot is quite settled, with returning starters Ethan VanMarter and track star Zavon Watkins capable of beating any defender one-on-one. Their presence eases the transition for Barletta, who will also throw to Connor Rogers as he replaces Gates at tight end.
Much of the offensive line is new, though, as left tackle Kyle Gordon (230 pounds) is the lone returning starter. Kevin Henry is the other tackle, with Kyle Dalton and Brendan Capria moving into the guard spots and Dan Corlept at center.
Liverpool normally runs a 4-4 defensive alignment. Rogers, a basketball star who won a silver medal at this summer’s Empire State games, and 6-6 Jaheem Hogan make for a tall pair of ends, with Vinny Gordon and Pat Carroll Marsh working at tackle as part of a rotation that includes the offensive linemen.
The departure of Donitzen at inside linebacker may be the Warriors’ biggest defensive concern as Travis Tucker and sophomore Dylan Springer get their turns. Thompson will take on a larger responsibility, too, as he works at outside linebacker. Watkins, at safety, and Johnson, at cornerback, give Liverpool a pair of outstanding defensive backs as Bobby Broaddus also works at corner.
Another of the Warriors’ tasks is to find a worthy successor to Jimmy Wright, who was nearly perfect on extra points and constantly belted kickoffs into the end zone. Rogers, already busy as a two-way better, is getting the first chance at it.
Liverpool opens Friday at Rome Free Academy, then goes to CBA a week later before that long-awaited home opener with B’ville. Mancuso said that it’s almost a relief to start out on the road and work out early problems before the hype of returning home sets in.
As to getting over that hump and finally winning a championship, Mancuso said it comes down to small details – taking care of the ball, not committing penalties. But at least the large detail of having a home field is resolved, which can’t hurt.