Aug 30, 2010 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
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.
Solvay has some experience on the offensive line, too, with center Anthony Callisto, guard Jack DeGonzaque and tackle Joe Watkins all returning. Watkins might even see time as a blocking back in short-yardage situations as Joe Toline and Rob Tyson join the front line and 6-4, 230-pound newcomer Stefan Duspar gets his shot, too.
With Watkins and Callisto, the Bearcats have both size and experience at defensive end. Other than DeGonzaque, the tackle spots in Solvay’s 4-4 alignment remain unresolved.
Clisson is a proven player at inside linebacker, flanked by Tyson and Toline on the outside, while Ryan Bidwell could hang back at safety or move up to help in the middle. Either way, Savo and Sarno will get tested at cornerback, with Ronn Bidwell helping from time to time, though the Bearcats want to limit the exposure of its starting quarterback.
Giving up a home game, Solvay opens Saturday night against Hannibal in the Carrier Dome as part of the Kickoff Classic, then goes to Homer before playing three of its remaining five games in “The Pit”, beginning Sept. 17 against Skaneateles.
“They know what it takes (to win),” Merrill said. “But with a lot of new kids up, it’s a project to find your identity. It’s important that we stay healthy.”