AUSTINTOWN - Matt Fusillo knows he and the Austintown Fitch Falcons have a huge task in front of them in order to replicate the success of last season.
In 2013, the Fitch Falcons posted a 10-0 regular-season record - their first unbeaten season in school history.
It won't be easy to match that with only six returning letterwinners. A majority of last year's starters graduated and now plenty of underclassmen are ready to fill those spots.
It isn't something Fusillo hasn't faced before, though. He's looked at adversity and scoffed at the thought.
Once, he was an underclassman vying for playing time. This time, things are different for the 6-foot-1, 239-pound lineman. There are plenty of spots around him to be filled on the offensive line.
"The big thing is his experience, he's played in 13 games," Fitch football coach Phil Annarella said. "He knows he's going to see different things on game night. He knows how to make the adaptations to the different defensive fronts we're going to see. He's the guy we're going to have to lean on this year as far as a leader on the field on that offensive line. Hopefully we'll find some guys to fill in and play half decently beside him."
Fusillo understands he won't be the tallest or biggest linemen out there, but he makes the most of his abilities.
"A lot of people look at us and our line and we're undersized," he said. "We have a lot of heart and a lot of passion and we play for our school. That's just something we get over, and we go out and play with our hearts every week."
Annarella said Fusillo is a good role model for the younger players. He has more than the moxie that usually defines a football leader, such as working hard.
Fusillo also has plenty of intangibles.
One is his intelligence, shown by his 3.4 GPA, and he has the quiet ability to lead. He doesn't utilize his vocal chords all that much underneath his Fitch helmet, but you can see him demonstrate how coach Annarella and the rest of the Falcons staff wants the job done.
"He's a terrific young man," Annarella said. "He's a good role model for the younger guys. He's a hard worker, just a lot of positives he brings to the table outside of his football ability. We rely a lot on those intangibles from him."
The green underclassmen might need a helping hand to get their respective positions right.
As for the offensive line, Fusillo will show them the way.
"I think it's better to lead by example," he said. "Once they see you do what you're supposed to be doing, then they'll do it because they'll know that's how you got there, to the starting position, and that's how you act on the football field."