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F-M football tackles hosts of challenges

Wittig keys Hornets after massive roster turnover

— 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.

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