AMHERST — To get Amherst’s football program back on track, athletic director Casey Wolf turned to an old friend — former Comets assistant and 15-year teacher in the district, Mike Passerrello.
Passerrello left Firelands, where he went 30-26 and made the playoffs twice in six full seasons, to take over a struggling Amherst program that has not won more than three games in a season six years. He replaced Bill Fishleigh, who resigned after posting a 5-25 mark in three seasons.
“They’re great kids to coach that have a ‘no quit’ attitude,” Passerrello said of the Comets. “With a positive mindset and hard work moving forward we’re hoping to bring back the Comet pride.
“I had a great time at Firelands and I really enjoyed it. It was tough to leave, but this was the best decision for me and my family. I enjoy being here, coaching the kids at Amherst.”
Passerrello is approaching his new job the same way he did when taking over a struggling Firelands program on an interim basis three games into the 2010 season.
That is, he’s evaluating his talent and plans to let the players dictate what kind of team the Comets will be.
“We’re banking on our defense to be the strength of our team as we’re installing our new offensive scheme,” Passerrello said. “The offense is different from what’s been run in the past, but the defense is basically the same.
“The kids coming back with experience we hope will give us some time to get settled in. We’re going to tailor our offense to what our kids do best. We’re going to play some power football, but we’re going to be pretty balanced.”
With the season opener against Clearview quickly approaching, Passerrello hasn’t decided who will start at quarterback. Senior Hunter Cassidy and junior Matt Fairchild are battling for the job.
Whoever wins the job will have plenty of weapons to work with. Senior Evan Shawver (6-foot, 170 pounds) is a three-year starter while senior Devin Holmes (6-5, 215) has a Division I college body.
Senior Nick Keron, a tri-captain, will be in the receiving mix as well.
As far as tailback is concerned, there’s no question who 5-9, 170-pound junior Khennedy Scagliozzo will get the majority of carries.
“He had a good year as a sophomore last year,” Passerrello said. “I think he’s going to be a special football player for us. He does a number of things … he uses his speed and can use his power between the tackles. We want to take advantage of that.”
Senior Aaron Gonzalez, a 5-8, 195-pound bruiser, who will see plenty of carries as well, is looking forward to seeing what Scagliozzo will do this season.
“He’s going to have a big role this year,” Gonzalez said. “He’s put the time in and is really talented. All the time he has spent in the weight room is going to show on the field.”
Joey Tomaro (5-10, 175), a junior, will also run the ball for the Comets.
Senior Matt Lee (6-2, 290), an all-state candidate on the offensive and defensive lines, thinks the Comets will surprise some people this season.
“We’re staying tight, staying together and working very hard,” Lee said. “That’s the kind of thing that’s going to bring the tradition back at Amherst … working hard, staying together, being positive and providing the kind of team a community can get behind.”
There was a recurring theme among the players and coaches when discussing what people should expect from Amherst this year.
“We’re going to play hard-nosed football,” Lee said. “We’re always going to be aggressive when we step on the field. Coach Passerrello is a great guy that knows exactly what he’s doing.
“Coach has made football fun again. Football is a tough game and you have to be willing to deal with the physical nature of the game, but he’s made practices fun. Even conditioning has been fun. It’s a great atmosphere.”
“Coach brought in a new weightlifting program and we really attacked it,” he said. “It’s been paying off. As a team we’re a lot stronger.
“We play hard every play. No matter what happens we’re going to leave everything on the fiend. We’re always going to try to be the most aggressive, physical team on the field. We’re going to try to punch every team we play in the mouth.”
Passerrello thinks it will not take long for people to realize Amherst is a different team than it has been over the last few years.
“We expect to play physical football and expect to compete every play,” he said. “We’re excited to get this going. Every program is going to have its ups and downs … you just have to be able to grind it out.
“I think the kids are excited to get to Week 1 and see what all their hard work is going to produce.”
Contact Mike Perry at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
CONFERENCE: Southwestern Conference
2014 RECORD: 3-7, 3-6 SWC
RETURNING LETTERMEN: 17
RETURNING STARTERS: 12 (6 offensive, 6 defensive)
PLAYOFF APPEARANCES: 7
LAST TIME IN PLAYOFFS: 2008 (lost to Twinsburg in the first round)
NUMBERS GAME: 1.5 — victories Amherst has averaged over the last six seasons. After a winless 2015 season, the Comets won three games last year, all in the SWC. Though losing seven games, Amherst was only outscored 284-243 a year ago.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Wide receiver Devin Holmes will be a matchup nightmare for SWC defensive coordinators. At 6-foot-5, 215 pounds, Holmes will be an inviting target in goal-line situations, where he will be able to leap over most defensive backs in the conference.
Aug. 25 Clearview
Sept. 1 at Lakewood*
Sept. 9 North Ridgeville
Sept. 15 at Midview*
Sept. 22 at Berea-Midpark*
Sept. 27 Olmsted Falls*
Oct. 6 at Avon Lake*
Oct. 13 North Olmsted*
Oct. 20 at Avon*
Oct. 27 Westlake*
* Southwestern Conference game
All games at 7 p.m.