CORTLAND - In the latter part of the last decade, the Lakeview Bulldogs had successful running backs help carry them to success.
For three straight seasons (2007-2009), the Bulldogs had 1,000-yard rushers in Ben Moody (2007-2008) and Te Elias (2009), and over that span, the Bulldogs reached a regional final in 2007 and made it to the second round of the playoffs in 2009.
Since that time, however, the Lakeview rushing attack hasn't been the same, with no rusher eclipsing the 1,000-yard plateau. For three seasons, Lakeview's leading rushers weren't even tailbacks, but a quarterback (2010-2011) and a receiver (2012).
In 2013, though, the Bulldogs reversed the trend in the form of running back Michael Mannella, who, somewhat quietly because of the emergence of quarterback Angelo Marino, accumulated 952 yards - the most since Elias' 1,652. This could add pressure on the senior running back to become that first Bulldog in four seasons to rush for 1,000 yards, but he seems to just shrug it off.
"There's always pressure as a running back, I would say, but nothing out of the ordinary," Mannella said. "We just get after it at practice day after day. I still have other running backs fighting for the same position and we go at it every day."
It's hard to see anybody leapfrogging the 5-foot-10, 195-pound running back on the depth chart for the Bulldogs. Mannella carried the rock 166 times last season - the second most on the team (two back of Marino) - and no other returning rusher had more than 14 rushing attempts. Considering Mannella's been progressively seeing more and more action in the backfield since his freshman year, the three-year letterman seems entrenched as the No. 1 running back.
Yet, it's this attitude about which Lakeview coach Tom Pavlansky gushes. Pavlansky praised Mannella's work ethic and said the team places a lot of importance on him as a running back and as a senior captain.
"Michael is one of our hardest workers, if not our hardest worker," Pavlansky said. "I know he cares a whole lot, and we're counting on him to continue to get better. I know he has high expectations for himself and for his teammates. Michael Mannella is a very, very important part of what we do.
"If you had to chisel out a description of a Lakeview Bulldog, Michael has a lot of those attributes, if not all of them."
The expectations are certainly high for the Bulldogs this season after ending last regular season on a seven-game winning streak and qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since 2010. The team returns many of its key contributors on offense, starting with Mannella and quarterback Marino, who tossed for 1,534 yards, rushed for another 752 and totaled 20 touchdowns through the air and on the ground.
Once again, Mannella tried to play down the expectations he and his teammates have heading into 2014.
"Our expectations, they don't change from last year to this year," Mannella said. "They're the same expectations that we always have: To give our best effort, have no excuses and just give it our all."
Although he could dance around the topic of goals, he couldn't hold in his excitement about what will be his last season in a Bulldog uniform.
"I'm excited. Everybody else is excited around me," Mannella said. "It's fun to be out there, giving it everything your senior year."
If he does just that, 1,000 yards might not be farfetched for him.