SYRACUSE Forget everything you’ve ever read, everything you’ve ever seen, and everything you’ve ever known about the Solvay football team.
So many factors contributed to the Bearcats’ decades of gridiron, from legendary coaches like Al Merola to hard-working, blue-collar kids that played a physical brand of football. The formations never changed, and neither did the winning results.
Sometime in the new millennium, though, the decline began. Despite the mighty efforts of Merola and his successor, Phil Merrill, Solvay’s struggles only grew and, in 2010, culminated with a 1-6 mark, one of the worst in the program’s history.
Not long after, Merrill stepped down, but Solvay didn’t look too far to replace him. And what they got, in hiring Matt Shutts on Jan. 10, was a coach who has prepared a lifetime for this opportunity.
Shutts has been a football coach for 26 years. He played under George O’Leary at Liverpool and, in the time since, has assisted at Bishop Ludden, Westhill, Fayetteville-Manlius and Ithaca High School, plus college stints at Ithaca College and Morrisville State.
For the last decade, Shutts has spent most of the time coaching JV football at Solvay while starting up the indoor track program and also coaching outdoor track. Thus, he said, he got to know a large cross-section of the school’s athletes, something that came in handy once he took the varsity football helm.
By getting some of his track athletes out for football, and taking advantage of enthusiasm for the change in direction, Shutts has 31 players on the varsity roster. But it’s the work done by these players that really tells the story of how much it has changed.
For as long as anyone can remember, Solvay played the same way – Wing-T offense, 4-3 defense, hit hard, rinse and repeat. Shutts said he has thrown it out, installing new schemes on both sides of the ball to shake things up.