Aug 24, 2011 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Just like anyone else, the Fayetteville-Manlius football team is eager to take the field for 2011. Only in the Hornets’ case, the eagerness is quite literal.
Decades of toiling on a grass stadium surface that, by the latter stages each season, was breaking down are finally over as F-M debuts on its new artificial turf field Sept. 16 for its home opener against Oswego.
Head coach Paul Muench, entering his 12th season at the Hornets’ helm, noted how many times in recent years his teams had to go practice elsewhere, to places like Corcoran or Chittenango, because its field was too damaged to use. Now, that won’t be the case.
“It’s exciting,” said Muench. “People in the community stepped up (through private fund-raising) and showed pride in the athletic program. Hopefully, our play will be worthy of all that effort.”
Certainly F-M has a reason to feel it can thrive, whatever the surface. It went undefeated through the Class AA-2 division a season ago and reached the Section III semifinals before falling, 21-14, to eventual champion Baldwinsville.
From that 8-1 side, a fair amount of stars departed – John Wittig, Matt Moro and Ari Waffle on the offensive side, Brent Strickland, Louis Muraco, Sam Wells and Dan Murphy on the defensive side. But a lot of good players, veterans and newcomers, remain.
In junior Wolfgang Shafer, F-M may have another quarterback poised to start for two years, just as predecessors like Wittig, Zak Carter and Buddy Leathley did. With a strong, accurate arm, Shafer has a chance to thrive on the faster artificial surface, as the Hornets intend to ramp up its passing game.
Shafer will often be looking for Austin Perez, who as a sophomore had six touchdowns of 25 yards or more. Muench said Perez could get better if he adds possession receiving to his deep-threat capabilities,and he’ll also return kicks and punts.
Sawyer Dew and Mike Richer add depth to the receiving corps, and Dew could also play at tight end, though 6-2 senior Zach Lorraine moves into the starting slot.
F-M also has no shortage of running backs, even with Moro gone. Senior captain Andrew Fletcher, a three-year starter, and Zach Bright lead the way, but Ryan Simmons and Langston Lightcap (back after missing most of 2010 due to injury) could thrive, too, with fullback Kyle Toscano, David Hajduk, Ryan Greer and Pat McIntosh adding further depth.
Muench could bring out an offensive line entirely composed of seniors. Anchoring it is senior tackle Jason Abdo, with Connor Hoffman and Will Twichell at the guard spots and Justin Bondoc under center. Tim Maalouf, Max Bleiler and David Nuzzo are all in the mix for time at the other tackle.
In 2010, the Hornets were superb on the defensive side, but must make do with a new front seven. Strickland, in particular, left a big void after dominating at the end spot, so it’s up to Nate Kadah and Matt McDonough to come close to replicating his production. Nuzzo is expected to star at tackle, while 250-pound sophomore David Riccione could make an immediate impact at nose guard.
Whenever it is needed, senior Conner Chen could move up from his linebacker spot to aid the pass rush. Most of the time, though, he’ll be a 205-pound tackling machine, hitting hard as Bright and Toscano also play outside. Junior Josh Pulver, like Riccione, assumes a lot of important duties at middle linebacker.
F-M will be tough to throw on. Simmons could take away half the field as an All-Central New York candidate at cornerback, while Jim Krizman is just as good at safety and could back up Shafer at the quarterback spot, if necessary. Jones also returns at cornerback, while Lightcap, a top track sprinter in the spring, adds further speed at safety.
Before that long-awaited home opener, F-M faces two big tests, starting Sept. 2 against Section IV champion Corning in the Kickoff Classic at the Carrier Dome and continuing a week later at Utica Proctor. The Hornets also travel to West Genesee and Auburn, but host Corcoran and Henninger.
Muench said his players “took it to another level” in their level of preparation during the off-season, from increased participation in the weight-training program to intense practices. All of them know that F-M, for all of its recent success, has not won a sectional title since 2001, and that a full effort is required to end that drought.
“We want to take it one practice at a time (right now),” said Muench. “Then, every game is like a season unto itself, and we want to play our best football at the end.”
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