Aug 26, 2007 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
For most of its existence, the East Syracuse-Minoa football team presented itself as an eager challenger – sometimes good enough to get into the Section III playoffs, but never able to break the stranglehold teams like Whitesboro and Fulton had on the Class A ranks.
But all of that changed in 2006.
Blessed with a clock-chewing ground game and a ferocious defense full of senior talent, the Spartans won its first sectional championship since the current playoff system was established in 1979.
In fact, ESM’s two defeats came to Geneva (in the regular season) and Corning East (in the Class A regional fianls), and both of them went on to win their respective state titles.
So as the Spartans gathered again for 2007, it carried the title of defending sectional champions, a stature that head coach Kevin DeParde said means a lot — to a point.
“It does change the mindset,” he said. “The expectations among themselves (the players) is at a different level. Still, that was last year’s team. This group has to chase their own title.”
And in this chase, ESM’s offense must carry the load early, since all 11 defensive starters must be replaced. Also, center Brett Adams decided not to return, concentrating instead on his academics (he’s a high honors student) and wrestling, his main sport.
Mick Letcher returns at quarterback, which by itself is quite important. Though smaller than most quarterbacks, Letcher has absolute command of the Spartans’ offense, and supreme athletic skills based on his own exploits as a wrestler, which includes a fourth-place finish in the 2007 state tournament at 140 pounds and a gold medal at this summer’s Empire State Games.
“He’s a great leader and a bright boy that commands respect,” said DeParde. “Under center, he doesn’t make a mistake, and his competitive nature is phenomenal.”
Matt Cushing is also back to run the ball. Though he has shed 10 pounds in the off-season, Cushing has a better build, said DeParde, and is as fast as anyone on the team, yet he’s equally capable of tough, straight-ahead running to go along with his outside speed.
Cory Gerace also returns to start at fullback, bringing all kinds of toughness to his post. If Cushing needs a rest, varsity newcomers Jaquan Williams and Ziad Janadu are ready to step in.
Among the receivers, Emmitt Baggett is the most intriguing prospect, a tight end that played guard a season ago but moves over to succeed Adam Walsh. Kyle Johnson and Andy Heagle move into the wide receiver slots.
Due to Adams’ departure and other graduation hits, Jeff Lamphier is the lone returning starter on the offensive line, at tackle. At 270 pounds, Lamphier is the biggest presence on a line where, said DeParde, everyone is in top condition after lots of off-season work in the weight room.
Andy Wowelko slides into the other tackle spot. Dylan Canarro succeeds Adams at center, flanked by guards Eric Waltz and Eric Bartoszek. They all range from 210 to 215 pounds, but possess plenty of strength to handle the job.
As mentioned, every starter on the defense is new. Yet DeParde said he believes his linebacker corps might be even better this time around.
That’s understandable, since Gerace and Cushing are now starters, Gerace having moved up from the safety position. Sophomore Dustin Moss (another ESG wrestling gold medalist) and junior Ben Kreischer inherit the outside linebacker spots.
In front of them, Baggett and Waltz take over at defensive end. ESM has some size at the tackle spots, where Mark Conti carries 255 pounds and sophomore Eric Cushing (Matt’s younger brother) already has 240 pounds of bulk. Both will need to be good right away.
DeParde said he “starts from scratch” in the three-man secondary. For now, Letcher plays cornerback, though the Spartans hope some others will develop so he can concentrate on quarterback duties. Williams also lines up at cornerback, with Heagle working at safety.
Following its traditional opening scrimmage with Whitesboro last Saturday, ESM begins its quest to repeat at Oswego Friday night. After that, the Spartans play four of its next five games at home before a tantalizing regular-season finale at Jamesville-DeWitt.
To have any chance of repeating as sectional champions, said DeParde, the Spartans must put up points to allow the new-look defense to grow and gel.
“Our offense can carry us early on to allow that (defensive) maturation process to take place,” he said.