Monessen native has battled 'too short' label as a player

| Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Bernie Sarra has been used to being told he couldn't do things.

After all, during his football career at Greensburg Central Catholic, the Monessen native was told time and again that he couldn't play Division I football.

Even though he was dominating his opponents on Friday night, the bigger colleges kept telling him the same thing.

“They said I was too short,” said Sarra, who is 6-1 and weighs 305 pounds.

“Some Division I schools wanted me to walk on and others weren't even willing to give me a chance,” he said.

One Division I school did.

The Naval Academy.

The Navy was willing to take Sarra and after graduating from GCC last year, he spent his first year at the academy's prep school in Rhode Island.

In June, he went to the academy in Annapolis, Md., and began practicing with the football team in August.

When he started practicing with the varsity, Sarra kind of felt like he did as a senior in high school.

“That first day, I was pretty far down on the depth chart,” he said.

However, Sarra quickly asserted himself among the defensive linemen and moved up to third on the depth chart at defensive tackle.

It's a spot he still holds for the Midshipmen (4-3).

“When I first got to the academy, I thought it would be hard to get to play, so I figured I would just work hard and not be disappointed if things didn't work out for me,” he said. “But I was going to work hard.”

Sarra's hard work did not go unnoticed.

In Navy's first game against Notre Dame in Dublin, Ireland, he saw extensive action.

He has dressed every game since and played in two of them.

“Ever since I got to the academy, my big goal was just to be able to get on that plane with the team and go to Ireland,” he said. “It was a great experience to be there. To get to play in that first game was a real thrill.”

As he strives to beat the odds on the football field, Sarra continues to use the same work ethic he always had.

“I know I'm doing pretty good, but every day in practice I go there and work hard because I know I have lots to improve on,” he said. “I can get better and I will get better.”

And while Sarra did not end up with the kind of Division I school he envisioned as a player at GCC, he says he is far from disappointed.

“Being with the academy is a great honor,” he said. “We have to do a lot of things that other players at other Division I schools don't have to, but it makes us stronger as a team, makes us closer.”

After his four years as a player are up, Sarra will have a five-year commitment as a commissioned officer with the Navy and he wouldn't have things any other way.

“From the start, the Navy was interested in me,” he said. “The Navy wanted me and it's been the best thing that ever happened to me.”

And while Sarra has been working hard to beat the odds to fulfill his own goals, he also has team goals that are important to him as well.

One of them is playing in a bowl game.

With a 4-3 record, the Midshipmen need just two more wins to be bowl eligible.

“As long as we play the way we are capable of, we should be able to go to a bowl game,” he said. “But we are taking things one game at a time.”

It's more than the other Division I schools were willing to give him a year ago.

Jeff Oliver is a sports editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2666 or

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