Aug 26, 2012 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Anything the East Syracuse-Minoa football team accomplishes this fall will have to live up to the high standards set during a memorable 2011 season.
“Last year was special, no doubt about it,” said head coach Kevin DeParde. “We felt, talent-wise, that we had as a good a team as anybody in the state.”
It was good enough for the Spartans to make a perfect 10-0 run to the Section III Class A title, blanking fellow unbeaten Whitesboro 27-0 in the title game at the Carrier Dome.
But the dream of a state title ended a week later as ESM committed four turnovers in a 21-7 regional loss to Maine-Endwell, who went on to claim the state championship.
From that group, more than 20 seniors have departed, from top lineman Bob Alli to quarterback Tyler Johnson (now at American International University) to All-State wide receiver Bobby Campese, who is at St. John Fisher College.
For most programs, such a roster turnover would be quite daunting. However, DeParde said that, while there are many new starters on both sides of the ball, they got some game experience in 2011, playing late in games that were already settled.
“They are seasoned, to some degree, so we’re cautiously optimistic,” said DeParde.
What eases ESM’s transition is the presence of Jeff McDuffie at tailback. The senior scored 14 touchdowns a season ago and, with lots of speed, is capable of big runs any time he has the ball, especially with veteran Nick Lobello blocking for him at fullback.
In truth, the Spartans have two star backs. The other is Jose Sanchez, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound junior whom DeParde compares to former ESM star Matt Cushing in his ability to pound away in the middle and gain yardage through sheer power.
Having these two top backs makes life easier for Sean Richardson, who has the tall task of succeeding Johnson at quarterback. The 6-foot-3 junior is, said DeParde, more of a traditional passer with a strong arm, and Richardson won’t run out of the backfield as much as Johnson did.
With Campese gone, ESM will throw more to three-year starting tight end Mike Gorney, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound senior who could create the same kind of mismatches that Campese did. McDuffie could line up at receiver when Sanchez is in the backfield, while Pat Bryant and Eyan Underwood are more traditional wideouts.
Center Chris Szlamczynski, at 255 pounds, and three-year starter Mike Hearn, at 305 pounds, anchor the Spartans’ offensive line. Eric Spero moves from tight end to guard, where Eric Spero is already situated. Mike Gorman takes over the other tackle spot.
For all the firepower it employed, ESM, said DeParde, turned into a championship team in 2011 because its defense stepped up and started to dominate, capped by the shutout of Whitesboro in the Dome, made more impressive by the fact that the Warriors had never scored less than 40 points in a game prior to the sectional final.
“The type of defense we played last year must happen again,” said DeParde. “We need to play at a fast pace, move guys toward the football and be physical.”
There’s experienced players on every part of the defense, from Szlamczynski at defensive end to three-year starter Steve Loder and Sam Pascarella at linebacker to McDuffie and Lobello at the safety positions.
Working from a 3-4 alignment, Coz Whitaker is the nose guard, flanked on one side by Szlamczynski and on the other side by a rotation including Hearn and Anthony Brooks. Sanchez moves from end to linebacker to join Loder, Pascarella and Jack Burgan. Anthony Bell and Kolin Diederickson take over at cornerback.
All of them will get a fierce challenge in ESM’s first three games. After playing Indian River Friday in the Carrier Dome at the Kickoff Classic, the Spartans meet highly-touted Nottingham (down from the Class AA ranks) in the Sept. 7 home opener and, one week later, hosts Jamesville-DeWitt, coming off its best season since 1997.
In reality, said DeParde, every opponent will gun for ESM, since they are defending champions, but added that his players are ready to build upon what was done before.
“There’s a lot of internal motivation,” he said. “Each group wants to be the one that doesn’t let the previous groups down. They want to leave their own mark and establish their own legacy.”