Aug 28, 2014 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Sequels are inevitably compared to what took place the first time around.
Damien Rhodes’ debut season as Fayetteville-Manlius football coach was close to ideal. It included a perfect 7-0 regular season and a high-octane offense that averaged more than 46 points per game. Hornets fans dreamed of a Section III Class A title.
And then those dreams got crushed in the sectional semifinals at Liverpool High School Stadium, Henninger romping in the rain over F-M 41-14. Tough as that was, the off-season would prove rougher.
The Hornets already knew that a slew of senior standouts, including Jake Pulver, Luke Krizman, Jack Wilson, Matt Stegemann and Richard Zogby, were graduating. But then Zaire Ashley, a standout running back and linebacker, moved out of the district to be with his mother in New Jersey.
Then, to further augment the struggles, a lack of numbers forced F-M to not field a junior varsity team this fall. That added more sophomores to the 48-man varsity roster, where many of them are expected to contribute right away.
Rhodes said that this is just a one-year hiatus for JV, noting that 30 kids signed up for freshman football (which is not offered by every Class AA school) and that 55 seventh and eighth-graders signed up for F-M’s modified team. If those numbers hold, the future should not prove dire.
What all of this means is that many unfamiliar faces will line up in green and white this Saturday night when the Hornets open 2014 by facing Cicero-North Syracuse in the Kickoff Classic at the Carrier Dome.
But a very familiar figure will line up under center. Jake Wittig is entering his senior season, and the F-M quarterback may have as much pressure on him as any player in the Class AA ranks, making sure that a new set of skill players get something close to the gaudy numbers put up in 2013.
Rhodes that Wittig’s leadership skills, as shown in both football and as the star point guard for F-M’s basketball team, are incomparable, not just in understanding the game, but in anticipating what a defense will do next.
“I give him plenty of freedom to run the offense,” said Rhodes.
Wittig will work with a brand-new set of skill players. Pulver and Ashley accounted for most of the rushing yards in 2013, while Krizman and Wilson did most of the pass-catching. A host of contenders were vying for starting spots all the way through Saturday’s scrimmage against Corcoran.
F-M is a bit more stable on its front line. Though Zogby and Matt Stegemann are gone, three starters are back, including tackles Jake Okun and Cormac Bettinger and guard Owen Kahn. Their presence should protect Wittig from pass rushes on both sides.
Throughout the defense, there are more holes to fill, especially in the front seven, where Pulver earned All-Central New York honors and Ashley wasn’t far behind. Keeping his options open, Rhodes said there’s a lot of competition for starting roles throughout the defense.
On both sides of the ball, said Rhodes, the “next man up” philosophy is dominant, in that the Hornets are not wasting time worrying about who has left, but instead are focused on themselves and what the current team can accomplish.
There’s few breathers for F-M in the Class AA-2 division, though after the opener with C-NS, it plays four of its next five games at home. Likely, the season will turn in a two-week stretch starting Sept. 19 with a chance at revenge against Henninger in front of the home crowd, followed seven days later by a visit to perennial contender Baldwinsville.
With a lot of returning players, Henninger has emerged as the consensus AA favorite, while B’ville features a trio of standout seniors in Cameron Skipworth, Cole Burchill and Marcel Penfield.
By the end of September, the Hornets will have a better idea of where things will stand, but for now, said Rhodes, the task is to ignore the naysayersand just get to work constructing another title contender.
“We don’t worry about outside information,” said Rhodes. “We just take care of our own business.”