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WAHS football coach Morelli staying on top of the game in uncertain time

Warren Area High School head football coach Mark Morelli (right) talks with Meadville coach Ray Collins prior to their District 10 Class 5A semifinal game on Oct. 26, 2019, at Edinboro University’s Sox Harrison Stadium.

Mark Morelli has years of experience to draw on, but nothing could prepare him, or anyone else for that matter, for the current reality of our world.

With the COVID-19 pandemic bringing life as we know it to a halt, the Warren Area High School head football coach is certainly no exception.

While spring coaches and athletes are left waiting and wondering for a season that may or may not happen, preparations for fall sports are being affected as well.

Football coaches are creatures of habit, using every bit of time allotted to them to meticulously improve their program. So how is the self-described old-school Morelli leaning on his experience to try and keep doing that?

“Well in the old days, we did not have the summer workouts and the camps at the level we have them now,” he said. “Generally speaking, back then everybody played in everything, there was no specialization or travel teams. You went from one sport to another. So with that being said, we have to focus on the basics when this thing is back to normal. Instead of having 95 percent of your offense and defense in by your first game, you go with maybe 55/60 percent.

“The one thing we have been doing since this is unprecedented is we have been researching as much as we can how the college programs are adapting. They have one big advantage over us with their technology and Zoom capabilities. But they will need to streamline things down as well on the field.”

Morelli and his coaching staff, which includes Eric Rozanski, Greg Miller, Andrew Morrison, Shawn Wilson, Kevin Reagle and Ken Hinton at the varsity level, has stayed in regular contact.

Among the topics of discussion are how they can best serve the kids on the team in what can aptly be described as unique circumstances.

“We are just trying to keep tabs on our players as best we can,” he said. “The Warren School District policy is no contact with our players, no texting, no anything and we are abiding by that. But we find out a little bit of information here and there. We do a very good job of keeping each other informed of any developments we may come across.”

That being said, the Dragons were fortunate in one regard.

“We did have a stroke of luck and were able to get an informal workout in with about 25 of our players on the Saturday before all of this became a national crisis,” Morelli said. “From what I do know, our coaches have seen our kids running and working out on their own. This is a good thing and a very good sign. Coach Rozanski had 24/26 kids on the average in the weight room during the off-season. Some of those players were making significant progress with their strength.

“But everyone in D-10 is faced with the same dilemma as we are. We are limited with where we can weight train now. That in itself is a major drawback. This is the quote I had sent out on our Warren Football Facebook and Twitter pages, I think it sums things up well: ‘The 2020 high school football season will be a TRUE indicator of what players do when nobody is looking. Coaches will be able to tell.'”

The Dragons will return an experienced squad in 2020, coming off a 6-4 season and a playoff appearance, so the learning curve might not be as steep as it is with some other programs.

“If there is a silver lining to all of this, it is we have seven or eight starters returning on both sides of the ball. That should be a big help to us once things get going again,” he said. “They know our system and have played in it. I am positive that will be an asset to our season. Not only that, but we have some talented kids coming up who will push and compete for playing time.”

It’s been a long time since sports weren’t a part of the daily culture in America. Even during national crises’ like 9/11 and World War II, the games eventually went on.

Not during this time, however, with the world collectively at war against a silent enemy.

So what does a sports nut do when there are no sports?

“It’s very bizarre and surreal,” Morelli noted. “You do not realize how much sports is a part of your day and your routine until you do not have it. It’s part of the everyday American way of life. It gives people a diversion from work and makes for good conversation, but like everyone else, I go back and watch the re-runs on YouTube and the classic games on TV – that includes last year’s Warren games on Hudl.”

The games will continue at some point, but nobody knows exactly when.

To that point, ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit recently said that he would be ‘shocked’ if the NFL and college seasons went ahead as scheduled.

His comments were met with a lot of resistance, with the fact of the matter being it’s simply too early to tell.

Count Morelli as one of the optimists, however.

“I feel we’ll have a season in some form,” he said. “I am staying positive and hopeful by June 1st we have a return to normalcy. But there is also the possibility we may not have June or July to do 7-on-7 and summer conditioning. But if we get the go-ahead by the time the ‘Heat Acclimation’ date rolls around on August 10th, then we will shift into high gear.

“We may have to play before an empty stadium or possibly even a shorter season – a lot of questions right now with no clear answers. But like anything else, we have to adapt to what the state and federal government decides and where the PIAA and WCSD stands with everything. As much as we all love and miss sports, our players and their families overall health and well being is the main topic and number one issue here. We want our players to be safe.”

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