The Edinboro University football team will have a decidedly Warren County flavor during the 2013 football season.
In addition to sophomore defensive end Sawyer Dininny - himself a Youngsville graduate - the Division II Fighting Scots will add two more county players for the upcoming season in Warren senior Chris McNeal and Youngsville senior Jordan Gurdak.
The pair recently signed letters of intent to play for Edinboro beginning this fall.
Times Observer photo by Allen Seybert
Signing the deal
Warren senior Chris McNeal, left, signs his letter of intent to play college football at Division II Edinboro, Thursday at Warren Area High School. With McNeal is Warren head football coach Brad Wright. Inset, Youngsville senior Jordan Gurdak carries the ball during a Region 2 football game with Mercyhurst Prep, September 29, 2012, at Erie Veterans Stadium. Gurdak, recovering from an ACL tear suffered during his senior season, recently signed a letter of intent to play football at Division II Edinboro this fall. Gurdak will join McNeal and Youngsville graduate Sawyer Dininny as county products on the Fighting Scots’ roster.
McNeal has been tapped by the Scots to play linebacker and perhaps even a little safety. By excelling on defense, McNeal burst onto the scene in 2012 and opened the eyes of scouts with a tremendous senior year as Warren's defensive leader.
"Chris was the quarterback of our defense," said Warren head football coach Brad Wright. "He was the guy running the huddle and taking the calls from coach (Greg) Latimer and relaying them to the rest of the team. He was simply an integral part of a much improved defensive unit. His work ethic speaks for itself. He stepped up and made a name for himself during his senior season."
McNeal said he had always dreamed of playing at the next level, but it was his senior year that made him start seeing it as a distinct possibility.
"I've always wanted to play those extra four years and I made a conscience effort going into my senior year to step and put everything I had into the game," said McNeal. "I played with some great linebackers - guys like T.J. Latimer (currently playing for Mercyhurst College) and Andrew Morrison - during my time as an underclassman and I felt it was my time to step up and take my game to that level."
Edinboro was always the frontrunner on McNeal's short list of choices. In fact, it was the aforementioned Dininny that played a key role in McNeal's signing with the Scots.
"Sawyer's a great friend of mine and he's on the team so he was always kind of pushing me to play for the school," said McNeal. "I met Coach Bradford and my linebackers coach and just loved what they were about and what enthusiasm they brought to the table. It was an easy decision for me."
McNeal added that the university has an outstanding nursing program - his planned major - and that was the final selling point in his making a committent.
In McNeal, the Scots are adding a first-team Region 2 all-star at linebacker from the 2012 District 10 football season. He led the Dragons with a team-high 80 tackles as well as adding a pair of sacks and a pair of interceptions.
The Scots don't immediately plan to use McNeal on offense, but the senior was one of the Dragons' main ball carriers during the last two seasons. As a senior, McNeal rushed 67 times for 326 yards with eight touchdowns. He also had a pair of receiving touchdowns in helping the Dragons win a D-10 playoff game for the first time in 10 years.
"He's a very coachable kid," said Wright. "He will do whatever you need him to do. For instance, as a senior, he was asked to share his carries with another senior in Matt Falvo. He never once complained about the drop in his touches. Chris is a team player through and through and that's the type of player Edinboro is getting."
Edinboro will be getting a similar player in Gurdak - himself a first-team region all-star at linebacker during his junior and senior seasons. According to Gurdak, the Scots have given Gurdak the choice to compete on offense as a running back or play defensively as a linebacker.
"Right now, I'm leaning toward playing linebacker," said Gurdak.
His high school coach, former Eagles head man Luke Alex, knows first hand what Gurdak brings to the field.
"He was the heart and soul of our defense," said Alex. "Jordan is a big time play maker on both sides of the ball really. Explosive is the word that comes to mind with him. He brought stability and leadership to our defensive unit."
Much like McNeal, Edinboro was a logical choice for Gurdak.
"Their team is very talented and they also have the major that I'm leaning toward," said Gurdak.
Like McNeal, Dininny's presence also resonated with Gurdak.
"I'm looking forward to playing ball with Sawyer again," he said.
The Youngsville senior was an offensive and defensive dynamo for the Eagles, starring on the 2011 team that finished with a perfect regular season record of 10-0 and as Region 2 champions.
In his final three seasons at linebacker, Gurdak totaled 202 tackles, including 26 of those for a loss. He also compiled seven sacks as well as numerous interceptions and fumble recoveries. On offense, he was one of the hardest runners on the Eagles roster, chewing up 1,691 rushing yards and scoring 12 rushing touchdowns in his four-year career.
Gurdak faces a unique challenge as he prepares to take his game to the next level. He was limited to just five games during his final season at Youngsville after suffering a torn ACL during a Region 2 game with Mercyhurst Prep last September.
The injury has only increased Gurdak's motivation to perform at the collegiate level.
"It's definitely given me the motivation to work harder than ever, but I'm still looking at at least a six month recovery," he said. "I've been working my butt off since the surgery on December 10."
Alex has no doubt that Gurdak will rebound from the injury.
"Jordan was in the weight room with us in sixth grade," said Alex. "Even then, he was outworking many of the juniors and seniors. He's one of the hardest workers you'll find anywhere. His work ethic and committent to healing quickly and coming back stronger are unmatched. His desire to play this game is second to none."