When Palmyra-Macedon football coach Steve Sanzo spoke about his team this year, one of his comments was, "We're thin and we're young."
Those words sum up both the challenges and opportunities that face the Red Raiders, who look to improve upon last year's 3-4 campaign and first-round playoff exit to Livonia in the Section 5 Class B playoffs. With only five seniors returning, including record-breaking quarterback Stephen Morrell, the Red Raiders have lost depth and some key players, but also have the opportunities that come with a youth movement.
"The majority of our players are going to be juniors and some sophomores," said Sanzo, entering his fifth season as Palmyra-Macedon's head coach. However, he notes that despite the youth, the newcomers also have quite a bit of experience. For example, new center A.J. Hems played on the JV team last year, and also played on varsity during sectionals. Sanzo also said that many of the players are "selfless" and prepared to play multiple positions.
And, of course, there are also the returning players, chief among them Morrell, who Sanzo called a "strong leader" and "our field general." Now in his third season at varsity and his second full one as the starting quarterback, Morrell threw for 1,706 yards and 21 touchdowns last season, both single-season school records and leading marks for the Finger Lakes East League.
"This year, we definitely have a different team," Morrell said, "Hopefully, I'll be able to do the same production and help our team win."
"I'm hoping we can get to Sahlen's Stadium," he added, referring to the site of the sectional finals. "It hasn't been done in a while here at Pal-Mac. I don't really care personally [how we do it] as long as we get there, it'll be a great way to go out."
It may not be up to him. Despite his success, the fate of the Red Raiders will likely rest on the shoulders of the defense. Last season's defensive unit was often lit up by opposing teams, giving up more than 40 points in six of the eight games they played and twice allowing opponents to break the 60-point mark. It's something that Sanzo knows all too well, and has been a major focus in practice.
"We have some different personnel, we're concentrating a lot more on technique and tackling," the coach said.
In fact, Sanzo says, they might be doing it a bit too much: "We probably overdo it a little as far as drills we do tackling-wise."
He will see how much those drills help when the Red Raiders begin their season on Sept. 6 at Wayne before opening their home schedule with a game against Geneva on Sept. 13. Sanzo believes that these two games, as well as their third game against East Rochester-Gananda, could prove pivotal in the Red Raiders' season.
Page 2 of 2 - "Right into the fire, just how I like it," Sanzo said.