There is still talk of winning a Section V football championship among the players in Pittsford, despite significant roster turnover and the fact the team’s string of appearances in the finals is over at three.
“We have a veteran quarterback who is returning with a lot of confidence,” lineman Thomas O’Grady said. “We have a line that’s grown together through the Pittsford system, and we have a running back whose gained so much weight and kept his speed.
“I think we can make it back.”
The Panthers, who are trying to become Pittsford’s first sectional football champion in 32 years, will give it a go with 6-foot-4 senior Jack Wallman returning at quarterback.
Stephen Rhodes, who went from 5-8 and 165 pounds to 5-9 and 183 is the new ballcarrier the Panthers will turn the most to at running back.
It is a position that has dropped in value in the National Football League but not in Pittsford.
“I’m very excited,” Rhodes said. “It’s a special opportunity, especially because we live to run it.”
Pittsford linemen like O’Grady, a second-year starter at center, are the flag-bearers in the team’s offense. They are the first players on the team to begin off-season workouts. “It’s been a lot of beef, a lot of big men trying to move other big men,” senior tight end/receiver Lane Stone said about Pittsford’s power-running game. “We can do it again, but we have weapons now to do what we want.
“Don’t expect too much out of the ordinary (however).”
Pittsford receiver Zuril Hendricks goes all out to pull in a long throw down the sidelines during the team’s practice at Pittsford Mendon High School.
2013 record: 6-3.
Coach: Keith Molinich (8th year, 46-18).
League: Monroe County.
Sectional class: AA.
First game: Friday, Sept. 5, at Webster Schroeder, 7 p.m.
Returning starters: 4 offense, 3 defense.
Players to watch: Jack Wallman (senior, QB, 6-4, 205); Brandon Barker (sr. LB, 6-1, 202); Thomas O’Grady (sr. C, 6-0, 235); Stephen Rhodes (sr., RB, 5-9, 183); Brady Hoyt (sr. LB, 6-0, 195).
Keys to success: Move out to early leads. Pittsford’s offense is less suited for comebacks and back-and-forth, high-scoring games than getting the ball and keeping it away from opponents. … What about a defense that lost eight starters? No worries, said Hoyt. “Everyone is already up to speed.” … Do the Panthers believe they remain among Section V’s best? “People around town keep asking and we keep giving them the same answer,” Hoyt said. “We’ll be strong.”
Outlook: The Panthers should be strong again, although a Rush-Henrietta team that is largely a year older and possibly stronger, could be a challenger in Monroe County Division I and the Class AA sectionals. There is also reigning state champion Aquinas to deal with, certainly sooner (Oct. 4) and possibly later.
“We’ll see,” coach Keith Molinich said. “Again, I think we can knock on the door again. We just have to put all of the pieces together.”