Manlius Barely a decade ago, Damien Rhodes put his name into Fayetteville-Manlius football lore, leading the Hornets to its last Section III Class AA championship.
Now Rhodes is leading the Hornets again, as F-M has tapped him as the new varsity football head coach to replace Paul Muench, who stepped down after 13 seasons at the helm.
“When I think about it, it’s awesome,” said Rhodes. “It’s something that I’m very humbled by, and I feel blessed to be given this opportunity.”
Muench also praised the selection. “His character, knowledge of the game, work ethic and concern for the players make him an outstanding choice,” he said. “He will do a great job with the program and will continue to be a positive force in our community.”
It’s a promotion for Rhodes, who has spent the last five years as an assistant coach under Muench, bringing energy and enthusiasm to the sidelines. He has also served as an assistant coach for F-M’s successful boys track and field team since 2011.
For the returning F-M players who have benefited from Rhodes' tutelage in recent years, the selection proved quite popular.
"He can connect to us and what we're going through as players," said quarterback Jake Wittig. "And he knows our strengths and weaknesses. All of the kids love playing for him."
Or, as lineman Cormac Bettinger put it more succinctly, "Damien is the man."
Starting in 1999, Rhodes was a standout for F-M’s football team. That work culminated in 2001, when he was named Central New York Player of the Year and led the Hornets to the Class AA sectional title, ultimately reaching the state semifinals.
From there, Rhodes went to Syracuse University, where he spent four years playing for the Orange, accumulating 3,162 total yards rushing and receiving and scoring 27 touchdowns.