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Norwin ready to compete with young team

Tommy Quealy was engrossed in Art Tragesser's offense during the veteran coach's first year at Norwin last season.

"I love our offense, how it's all spread out," Quealy said. "I learned it quickly last year.

"It's really complex, but easy to learn, if that makes any sense• It's easy for kids to learn, but I think as a defensive coach scouting us, it's got to be a son of a gun to prepare for. At any time we can come out in any formation and run any play out of those formations. It's really tough to cover."

Now, Quealy is loving his place in that offense.

After playing receiver last season, Quealy is looking to lead the Knights' offense this fall as its only returning starter.

The only difference is the 5-foot-9, 165-pound senior will be Norwin's quarterback after serving as backup to Tim Petro the past two years.

"I think I started playing football in third or fourth grade and I was always quarterback," Quealy said. "That's all I knew. I'm not the big hard-hitting middle linebacker, but I love playing quarterback and I love being that guy in the huddle. I love being the captain and it's been my favorite position."

And Tragesser is pleased to have Quealy under center where he is most comfortable.

"He's a leader," Tragesser said. "I think the kids respect him and he's a kid that can make some plays for you with his feet. He'll do fine."

Last season, Tragesser placed much of the emphasis on his offense around Petro. A pocket passer, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound senior became one of the WPIAL's most consistent quarterbacks by completing 89 of 159 passes for 1,316 yards and 14 touchdowns, with just six interceptions to lead Norwin to a 5-5 record and a berth in the Class AAAA playoffs.

Norwin is expecting that same production from Quealy.

"Tommy's obviously physically not like Tim was last year, but he's the type of kid that he's smart and he's a winner," Tragesser said. "He's the type of kid that can make plays for you."

Those plays might be different from the the ones Petro made last season.

"The one thing that helps me mostly is that I run a lot," Quealy said. "I'm not 6-3 with a cannon like Timmy was. I can't rely on my arm. I think I'm going to need to run to open up the passing attack.

"I have the ability to check to any play at any time I want to. If I see something that I want, I can call a run for myself or somebody else."

Quealy will have plenty of new faces surrounding him in the Knights' offense.

Senior Tyson Blazer will start at running back. The 5-11, 210-pound bruising tailback replaces K'Hari Singleton, who rushed for 933 yards and nine touchdowns as a senior last season.

H-back Kenny Berryman could also play a big role in Norwin's offense along with receivers Luke Kljucaric, Erik Rayman, Jeff Springer and Kyle Baum.

"We have some kids that can catch the ball and can run," Tragesser said. "We'll just have to see where their talents are and try to utilize their talents."

The largest source of concern for Norwin has been the uncertainty on its offensive line. Eight players have been competing for a starting spots.

Junior 6-foot, 260-pound center Dylan Keffer leads that group of linemen, along with senior Quade Davis and injured senior Alex Batis.

"We've been juggling those guys around with some sophomores, too," Tragesser said.

But even the uncertainty of a young team dealing with the graduation of 26 seniors hasn't been the largest obstacle with which the Knights have had to deal during the preseason.

An outbreak of hand, foot and mouth disease curtailed the number of players who were able to participate training camp.

"It was weird," Quealy said. "It's almost funny now that it's over, but there were days we'd go out there with 16, 17 kids not there. We're a Quad-A program with 16 kids out. Now not all of them were sick, there were a couple injuries, but a lot of them were sick."

The Knights are looking to use those issues as motivation moving forward.

"I think it will help us in the long run because we learned to deal with it," Quealy said. "We had to struggle every day with younger kids coming in and learning positions. Some kids started out as a lineman and now they're playing linebacker and vice versa. It was tough. Our seniors stepped up to help our younger kids a lot."

Playing against the likes of Gateway, McKeesport Area and rival Penn-Trafford in the highly competitive Foothills Conference, Norwin will need all the motivation it can get.

"It's been our goal from day one to not just make the playoffs, but do well in the playoffs," Quealy said. "Above and beyond that, our goal is to come out and play our best every night."

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