Aug 30, 2013 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
What the East Syracuse-Minoa football team surrendered in 2012, it wants to take back in 2013.
As defending Section III Class A champions a season ago, the Spartans suffered three of its four losses by a combined four points, tumbled to third place in the Class A American division and lost in the opening round of the sectional playoffs to Whitesboro.
“We were inconsistent and undisciplined, and it cost us in close games,” said head coach Kevin DeParde. “We’ve got to be mentally tougher. The kids understand that, and that’s been nice.”
A strong off-season of work has led ESM to the stage it will occupy this Thursday night when it hosts Watertown in the first Section III game of the fall, televised by Time Warner Cable Sports.
Fans in person, and viewers at home, will get a glimpse at a revamped offense that lost top running back Jeff McDuffie, but returns senior quarterback Sean Richardson.
Starting as a junior, Richardson proved an able successor to record-setting Tyler Johnson. At 6-foot-4, Richardson has the capability of seeing over a defensive front. Just as important, said DeParde, is his growth in other phases of the game.
“Sean has matured a lot and he is in great shape,” said DeParde.
And Richardson can throw to an experienced group of receivers. Eyan Underwood returns at wideout, while Pat Bryant is back at tight end, the duo is joined by Deshaun Gorman as they try to spread the field.
ESM’s ground game won’t suffer much in McDuffie’s absence. Riquelle Othman, a transfer from Henninger, has eased into the starting tailback spot, and will get quite an escort from 5-foot-9, 230-pound senior Jose Sanchez, who could prove one of the area’s top fullbacks.
For a long time, ESM has preferred quick, agile linemen to bulky types. The same is true this fall, as three-year starting center Chris Szlamczynski, at 250 pounds, is the biggest of the starting five.
Kyle Hesse, who starts at guard, checks in at just 180 pounds, while fellow guard Matt Grosso is 225 pounds. Even the tackles, Eric Domlick (230 pounds) and Scott Irons (215 pounds), are lighter than average at that spot, but the Spartans want quick bursts off the snap and stamina, which is easier to accomplish for these guys than for 300-pounders.
ESM’s biggest problem last season was not on the offensive side, though. A once-vaunted defense regressed, hurt by its youth (just three starters back from 2011) and an inability to do the simple things well.
“We didn’t tackle as well as in years past,” said DeParde. “That was a big reason for our struggles.”
Just as on the offensive line, ESM likes a quick, explosive front in its 3-4 alignment. Nose guard Cory Whittaker is just 185 pounds, but flanked by Szlamczynski and Angel Curbelo, Whittaker could explode at the snap and get to the quarterback in a hurry.
Sanchez is entering his third year as a starting linebacker, and while he and Othman both expect to start here, DeParde said he wants to make sure both of them are fresh for their work on offense, so he’ll rotate in younger players and depend on the other starting linebackers, Khari Flagg and Andy Messinger, to do a bit more.
In the secondary, Gorman teams up with Anthony Townsend at cornerback, while lacrosse standout Kollin Diedrickson joins Underwood at safety. Aside from taking the snaps, Richardson will also punt as Diedrickson handles the kicking duties.
Once the opener with Watertown is done, ESM plays four of its next five games on the road, the only home contest a clash with the same Whitesboro team it scrimmaged on Saturday – and lost to in the playoffs last fall.
DeParde said ESM will face the same pressure situations it did in 2012. How it handles them, and whether ill-timed mistakes will lead to more physical and mental breakdowns, determines if the Spartans find itself atop the Class A ranks again.