Aug 26, 2012 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Merola passed away of cancer at at the age of 73.
Merola won 210 games in his three-plus decades with the Bearcats, casting a large shadow over anyone that would follow him, from long-time assistant Phil Merrill to current head coach Matt Shutts, who enters his second season at the helm.
The first season for Shutts was a tough one. Hampered by suspensions and other off-the-field issues, Solvay did not win a single game in the 2011 regular season and were down to just 21 players by the time it was done.
Piece by piece, though, Shutts and his fellow coaches are starting to put things back together. This season, 42 players came out for modified football and 37 are on the JV squad.
“We were in a cycle where kids just weren’t into athletics,” said Shutts. “We’re starting to get them interested again.”
That still leaves a small varsity roster of 24, but that includes 13 seniors and seven in a small junior class. And Shutts said their work ethic, cohesion and behavior, on and off the field, have vastly improved in the last 12 months.
“It’s been phenomenal,” he said. “These guys are an actual team. I do not foresee a single issue with them this year.”
Certainly the Bearcats don’t have an issue with Nick Cometti, who returns to start at quarterback. The senior is already a standout in indoor and outdoor track and field, having finished sixth in the 100-meter dash at last June’s outdoor state championships.
While that was going on, though, Cometti was busy brushing up on football technique. Shutts said the main thing that Cometti worked on was staying in the pocket, not automatically running at the first sign of trouble.
“He’s maturing into a much better football player,” said Shutts. “He’s taking command and starting to understand the mistakes he made before.”
Solvay’s offense offers lots of flexibility. For example, Mike Nicolini and Brian McCloud could line up at wide receiver or tight end, depending on the play. Solvay also has backfield options, with Carmen Sarno, Jake Callisto and Mat Lauro expected to share running-back duties.
Not since the Bearcats won a sectional title in 2002 has there been this much size on the offensive line, anchored by 260-pound center Ian Sakran.
At 290 pounds, Luke Randall could work at tackle or guard, and the same is true with Tyler Barube (255 pounds), while sophomores John Dippold and David Sayre and senior Anthony St. Andrew add further depth.
From a 3-4 defensive alignment, the Bearcats are expected to have three specialists at linebacker, including Frank Pucello, Jeff Rivers and Antoine Days, who will work with Nicolini in a group that will use its collective speed to chase down the ballcarrier.
The entire line has two-way players, with Randall and Sakran operating at nose tackle and Berube, Dippold and Callisto part of the end rotation.
Shutts said he works from the philosophy of having the 11 best players on the field. As such, Cometti, at safety, and Sarno, at cornerback, could see action on every single snap of offense and defense, with help in the secondary from Lauro and Josh Marotti.
Despite a tough starting stretch that includes Friday’s trip to defending champion Chittenango, followed by Cortland and Homer, Shutts said his team is not intimidated.
“I want a challenge,” he said. “we can only get better going against great competition. In these two weeks of practice, they’ve worked as one unit, so we’ve had success with the group. It could end (like last year), but this group won’t give up, regardless of the score says.”