Aug 28, 2013 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Head coach Matt Shutts and his Solvay football players know what they have dealt with in the last couple of seasons, and they are sick of it.
Once a perennial power, the Bearcats begin the 2013 season trying to erase a 23-game losing streak, including winless campaigns in 2011 and 2012. But everyone in blue and orange insists that this time it will be different.
“Even though we weren’t winning, we still had a family atmosphere, and we stayed with it,” said Shutts. “The kids were grasping it, and liked what we were building here.”
Combine that trend with success for Solvay in other sports (league titles in track and baseball, improvement in basketball), and participation has skyrocketed.
When last season ended, the Bearcats were down to 19 players, trending toward the state minimum needed for a game. Now, 30 boys will suit up, with 30 more playing on the JV team.
And all of them are active participants. Last summer, at an August pre-season football camp for kids in grades seven through 12 just a week before practices started, just 32 players showed up. This time, 57 were there, and that was just from ninth grade up.
That’s translated into a very busy weight room, too, with an average of more than 30 kids lifting during each session, and as many as 57 in one day. In short, a lot of people want to be part of what Solvay hopes will be a football renaissance.
The keystone in this entire process is next Sunday’s season opener, against long-time rival Marcellus in the Carrier Dome for the Tom Anthony Silver Cup. For a long time, this was a late-season contest, but the move to the opener, the Dome stage, and Solvay’s fervent desire to erase its long dry spell, adds even more weight to the affair.
“If we win that first game, it changes our whole season,” said Shutts.
That puts a lot of responsibility on returning senior Nick Cometti, who could work at quarterback, running back or wide receiver. With the speed of a top track sprinter, Cometti is a difficult match-up wherever he is placed.
A key throughout the Solvay roster is having a rotation of players, not to have 11 fixed starters on offense or defense, something that low numbers almost forced the Bearcats to do in recent years. Shutts said that will leave the team fresher and with more energy in the fourth quarter.
If Cometti is not under center, then the job goes to Brandon Franklin, whom Shutts said “gives us another dimension” due to his intelligence and skill set. The trio of Devlin White, Nick Perry and Jeff Honsinger gives the Bearcats multiple options in the running game.
It’s the same at wide receiver, where Frank Pucello is set at tight end, but three others – Josh Marotti, Mat Lauro and Cody Pucello – could start at wide receiver.
And they’ll all work behind the biggest Solvay offensive line since the Al Merola days. David Sayre, at 210 pound, is the smallest starter at guard, with Ian Skaran (245 pounds) and John Dippold (235 pounds) in the interior.
Jack Hook, all 6-foot-5 and 335 pounds of him, joins 240-pound Tyler Cardinell at tackle. Shutts said there is more size on the JV roster, where they’ll carry nine linemen, while 11 linemen play varsity.
Mostly from a 4-3 defensive front, the Bearcats return Sayre and Dippold as starters at end, with Hook, Sakran and Michal Bak forming the tackle rotation.
Frank Pucello, at 180 pounds, is another returning defensive starter. He’ll work as middle linebacker, flanked by small, quick players like Marotti (160 pounds) and Raheem Love (155 pounds), plus Adam Tanzella. Amid the secondary, Cometti could run down any defender, while White, Lauro, Honsinger and Cody Pucello add to the depth.
The sullen, quiet practices of seasons past has been replaced by newfound energy and belief that, should Solvay produce a stunner in the Dome against Marcellus, home games in “The Pit” (the familiar moniker given to Earl Hadley Stadium) might prove special again.
“They are extremely hungry,” said Shutts. “They want to win.”