Aug 22, 2012 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
The way it has worked with Fayetteville-Manlius football throughout head coach Paul Muench’s 13-year tenure, every other year a new group of core players establish themselves so that, the following season, they’re poised for a championship run.
Based on that, 2011 was an evolutionary process, with the Hornets going 6-3 and reaching the Section III Class AA semifinals before falling to CBA. And 2012 is expected to be a year where F-M goes all-out for the big prize.
Even before it started, though, the Hornets suffered a major blow. During the summer, Austin Perez, expected to be one of the top wide receivers in Central New York, suffered a torn ACL, which will sideline him for the season.
That injury robbed senior quarterback Wolfgang Shafer of his favorite target, a threat to go deep and get a touchdown on every single play.
At the same time, said Muench, the timing of Perez’s injury allows the other receivers plenty of time to work together, and with Shafer, to keep F-M’s potent, fast-paced offense in high gear.
Shafer had his own injury woes last fall, dealing with a bad back by the time he reached that playoff game against CBA, where he played through the pain – but threw three first-quarter interceptions that doomed the Hornets in a 34-14 loss. Fully healed, Shafer could have a big fall.
“He really throws the ball well and understands the game,” said Muench.
No single player is expected to match Perez’s lost production, but the combination of Brandon Gesler, Brandon Davis, Tanner Carter and Dan Wyman, along with tight ends T.J. Wheatley and Nate Kadah, gives Shafer lots of viable options.
And if that doesn’t work, F-M could run wild, since Sean Bright returns at tailback. Bright amassed 24 touchdowns a season ago, mostly of the short-yardage variety, but Muench said that his ability to run inside or outside, and break off long gains, will keep defenses honest.
Ryan Greer is back, too, adding potent depth to the backfield, while Luke Krizman and Ryan Smack back them up and highly-touted freshman Zaire Ashley (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) is being groomed as the star back of the future.
Even with a new lineup, Muench said his offensive line could be a team’s strength. Left guard Matt McDonough (230 pounds) is the lone returning starter in the front five, while David Riccione (260 pounds) and Gabe Zogby (270 pounds) both take over at tackle, backed up by 278-pound sophomore Cormac Bettinger.
Another sophomore, Jake Okun (220 pounds), steps into the other guard position, backed up by Dylan Barrera (230 pounds), with Matt Stegemann (230 pounds) lining up at center with help from Max Moore.
Where F-M could really flourish is on defense, particularly the front line. The 6-foot-7, 235-pound Wheatley, a sophomore with college potential in both football and basketball, could draw all sorts of double teams at end, opening things up for Kadah to run wild at the other end spot. McDonough, Bettinger and Chris Bortel form a solid tackle rotation.
Returning senior Josh Pulver anchors the Hornets’ linebacker corps, flanked by Bright, while Ashley could make an immediate impact in his ninth-grade campaign and Jake Pulver helps, too.
Tom Quinlan is yet another returning starter, at safety, joined in the secondary by Gisler and Davis. And a lot of eyes will be on sophomore cornerback Jake Wittig, already a star in basketball, who will also see time at quarterback in specialized situations while backing up Shafer.
Unlike 2011, when F-M opened by allowing 62 points to Corning in the Carrier Dome, the Hornets want a fast start, so Friday’s opener against Central Square is important to establish momentum before a Sept. 8 clash with defending Class AA champion West Genesee in Camillus.
“You want to play well early,” said Muench. “You don’t want to figure stuff out during the games, so we’d better be ready to go, for there’s no place to hide in AA football. And the players are ready.”
For this experienced group of Hornets, said Muench, anything less than a sectional title run will prove disappointing.
“You can sell yourself short if you don’t aim high,” he said. “That championship is not reserved for someone else. If we don’t win it, it’s not because we’re not committed. We’re pretty excited for this season.”