It's hard to believe, but the 2011 county high school football season is just hours from kickoff.
A great deal of question marks surround this football campaign as the Warren Dragons look to secure a District 10 playoff berth for the second straight season and the Youngsville Eagles, Eisenhower Knights and Sheffield Wolverines try to rebound from 2010 seasons that saw the three programs combine for just three wins.
Warren and Youngsville would figure to have the best shots of starting the season with a victory as the teams visit the Titusville Rockets and Seneca Bobcats respectively. Those two programs went a combined 1-19 a year ago.
Times Observer photo by Josh Cotton
Hard work pays off
Warren assistant coach Greg Latimer oversees a drill during a Dragons high school football practice recently at Warren Area High School. The Dragons open their 2011 regular season at 7 p.m. Friday at Titusville.
The two teams opening at home will host extremely tough competition as Eisenhower welcomes Sharpsville, 10-2 last season, and Sheffield hosts Brockway, 12-1 in 2010. A tough road to travel to say the very least.
But then again, it's the opening week and it's a new season. It goes without saying that anything can - and probably will - happen.
Warren (0-0) at Titusville (0-0), at Titusville High School, Friday, 7 p.m.
Last season, the Warren Dragons started a season that would ultimately end in the District 10 playoffs with a 58-0 whitewashing of Titusville. Warren would love to see a repeat performance this time around.
Despite losing three-year starting quarterback Matt Stapleford, starting tailbacks T.J. Latimer and Rex Graham, tight end Andrew Morrison and talented linemen Logan Morley and Brett Ball to graduation, the Dragons hope to make a return trip to the D-10 playoffs this season.
Fourth-year head coach Brad Wright said in the preseason that "although the team has very few returning starters, the outlook is very positive if a talented junior class can play to its potential."
Playing to that potential begins by taking care of business against the Rockets. The loss to Warren was just the beginning to a dismal 2010 season for Titusville - a year that saw them finish with an 0-10 mark. Veteran Titusville coach Scott Salvo will be relying on his team improving after gaining valuable experience with several freshmen and sophomore starters last season.
Quarterback Drew Sneeringer, fullback Alex Kline and tight end Sam Bodame all return, giving the Rockets experience at key skill positions. It will likely take more than that for the Class AA Rockets to keep up with the Class AAA Dragons - a team that has proven quite explosive on the offensive side of the ball since Wright took over the playcalling duties.
2010 Dragons leaders (returners): Passing- Austin Jerman 8 of 18 for 51 yards, INT; Rushing- Jordan Willetts 5 carries for 76 yards, TD; Receiving- Nathan Zigler 13 catches for 173 yards, TD
Last meeting: September 4, 2010- at War Memorial Field- Warren 58, Titusville 0
Sharpsville (0-0) at Eisenhower (0-0), at Eisenhower High School, Friday, 7 p.m.
The 2010 season - as well as the 2011 offseason - is probably something the Eisenhower Knights football team would just soon forget. The Knights suffered through their first 0-10 season in 2010 and veteran head coach Jim Penley was told in early 2011 that he would not return.
However, when the Knights start the 2011 campaign at home against Sharpsville Friday, Penley will back on the sidelines for Eisenhower and his Knights will be hungry to improve on a tough last season.
One positive that came from the 0-10 year was the experience and playing time earned by several young Eisenhower players. Despite losing senior Zack Hitchcock, the majority of the Ike roster returns intact. That includes the county's top rusher from a year ago in John Pascuzzi (791 yards).
Sophomore Rob Wilston - who missed much of last year with an injury - will replace Aaron Lundmark as the team's primary signal caller, allowing the Knights to utilize Lundmark's receiving skills. Wilston will have the luxury of playing behind a trio of talented and experienced linemen, including Jordan Hefferman, Ken Peters and Jake Johnson.
The Knights' week one opposition -the Sharpsville Blue Devils - are coming off a tremendous 10-2 season in which they claimed a share of the Region 1 championship (with Farrell) and advanced to the D-10 Class A semifinals, losing to Mercyhurst Prep 56-33. As is the case with many successful teams, the Blue Devils were hit hard by graduation. While all-region lineman Dylan Hogue and the backfield of Spencer Bland, Ross Llewellyn and Joey Flynn do return, the Blue Devils suffered a huge hit with the graduation of all-District 10 defensive back Chad Piccirilli.
2010 Knights leaders (returners): Passing- Aaron Lundmark 29 of 86 for 341 yards, 3 TD, 5 INT; Rushing- John Pascuzzi 155 carries for 791 yards, 5 TD; Receiving- Logan Head 8 catches for 53 yards, 2 TD
Last meeting: September 4, 2010- at Sharpsville High School- Sharpsville 60, Eisenhower 0
Youngsville (0-0) at Seneca (0-0), at Seneca High School, Friday, 7 p.m.
If the Youngsville football team can stay healthy, the District 10 playoffs could be within reach for the Eagles. That was also the belief last year before injuries - including a season-ending injury to quarterback Cory Craig in the preseason - derailed the Eagles' chances and relegated them to a 2-8 record.
Craig is back this season and ready to use his talents and the talents of his teammates to lead the Eagles to the playoffs for the first time in 16 years. The team's top three rushers - Sage Sivak, Sam Lucas and Jordan Gurdak - all return for the Eagles as does a talented offensive and defensive line and wideouts Rocco Gatta, Dalton Maze and T.J. Hardy.
A new coach will lead the Eagles into Friday's season opener at Seneca as Luke Alex - the defensive coordinator under Tony Tridico for the past five seasons - takes over as the man in charge.
Seneca and new head coach Dave Frank are trying to rebound from a difficult 1-9 season last year. However, that lone victory was a 21-3 triumph over the Eagles in the 2010 season opener.
Like the Eagles, the Bobcats return to action with last year's leading passer and rusher on the roster. Joe Hibbler led the Bobcats with 430 rushing yards in 2010 while quarterback Cody Robinson threw for 213 yards and used his legs to make several other key plays for Seneca.
2010 Eagles leaders (returners): Passing- Rocco Gatta 21 of 63 for 289 yards, TD, 6 INT (Cory Craig returns after missing the entire 2010 season); Rushing- Sage Sivak 135 carries for 589 yards, 3 TD; Receiving- T.J. Hardy 6 catches for 76 yards
Last meeting: September 3, 2010- at Mike Shine Field- Seneca 21, Youngsville 3
Brockway (0-0) at Sheffield (0-0), at Sheffield Area High School, Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
Speed is the name of the game for the Sheffield Wolverines.
With a bevy of skill position players returning for another season and with perhaps more speed than he has ever had, coach Bryan Gould is excited about the Wolverines' prospects for the upcoming year.
"The offensive line is where it all starts and I'm counting on our interior three linemen who had a full season of experience last year to clear a path for our speed," said Gould.
Quarterback Ike Nearing - who passed for nearly 1,100 yeards and five touchdowns last season - will again play the quarterback spot with his top target from 2010 (George Fitch, 22 catches, 420 yards, 2 TD) also back at tight end. Tailback Kalil Slaughter was second in the county with 601 rushing yards in 2010 and is also back in the mix for the speedy Wolverines.
Brockway will visit Sheffield to start the 2011 season and the Rovers kicked off a 12-1 2010 season with a 49-21 win over these same Wolverines last September. However, that team had District 9 record-breaking quarterback Derek Buganza and veteran coach Frank Varischetti leading the way.
Buganza - and several of his key weapons - were lost to graduation and Varischetti moved on to coach at DuBois, making it a new era for the Rovers. Senior Kyle Braun, who caught 45 passes for 908 yards and was a fourth-team Class AA all-state pick in 2010, moves to quarterback this year with junior tailback Tom Vervoort back after missing much of last season with a knee injury.
2010 Wolverines leaders (returners): Passing- Ike Nearing 59 of 156 for 1094 yards, 5 TD, 17 INT; Rushing- Kalil Slaughter 97 carries for 601 yards, 3 TD; Receiving- George Fitch 22 catches for 420 yards, 2 TD
Last meeting: September 3, 2010- at Brockway High School- Brockway 49, Sheffield 21