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Rhodes, Hornets look for AA title breakthrough

Former F-M standout now head coach of perennial contender

— As a high school senior in 2001, Damien Rhodes, with his big-play ability, pushed Fayetteville-Manlius to a Section III Class AA championship.

Twelve long years later, the Hornets are still looking for its next sectional crown – and now Rhodes, 28, is the section’s youngest varsity football head coach, charged with continuing F-M’s recent success, but pushing it just a step or two further.

In seven of the 11 years since that ’01 title, F-M has at least reached the sectional semifinals. A season ago, even after a season-ending knee injury to top wide receiver Austin Perez, F-M got back to the semifinals, only to drop a 38-36 classic to Baldwinsville.

To get all the way to the top, said Rhodes, he’s asked his players to “focus on the things we can control on a daily basis, and then let things fall where they may. They’re getting better every day and have a nice singular focus.”

The transition from former head coach Paul Muench to Rhodes at the helm is not the only one. Perez, quarterback Wolfgang Shafer, running backs Sean Bright and Ryan Greer, along with linemen Matt McDonough and Josh Pulver, graduated among the offensive starters.

At least the Hornets have a successor to Shafer in place. Junior Jake Wittig takes over at quarterback, having already seen plenty of action as a freshman and sophomore. Back then, he was a change of pace when Shafer went off the field. Now, Wittig will run the whole show.

Wittig is used to such responsibility as a two-year starting point guard on F-M’s varsity basketball team, where he’s one of the area’s best. As to football, Rhodes said that Wittig has done more than just work on mechanics and game understanding.

“Jake’s learning to be a great leader through his actions on and off the field,” said Rhodes.

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