East Syracuse 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.