Greensburg Central Catholic grad standing tall for Navy football team

| Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

When Bernie Sarra was playing football at Greensburg Central Catholic, he was one heck of a stop gap in the middle of the defensive line for the Centurions.

Even though he had an outstanding senior season three years ago for one of the top teams in Class AA in the WPIAL and was named to the all-state team, the Monessen native was on the outside looking in when it came to attracting college recruiters.

The bigger schools felt, at barely over six feet tall, the burly Sarra was too short to play Division I football.

He ended up going to the Naval Academy and last season saw spot duty on defense for the Midshipmen.

This year, Sarra is getting ready to open the season as a starter on the defensive line for Navy's football team.

The 6-1, 303-pound Sarra is one of three nose guards who will see a lot of time for Navy.

One of them, Barry Dabney, started at the position a year ago. The the other player in the trilogy is Babatunde Akingbemi.

Nose guard is an important position on Navy's defense.

Like with the Steelers' design, the nose guard is often asked to take up space and blockers to allow linebackers to have more of a free rein to go up and down the line of scrimmage and make plays.

“We've got three good-sized guys and they're all going to play,” Navy defensive line coach Dale Pehrson told The Annapolis Capital (Md.) staff writer Bill Wagner this week. “It's just a matter of who runs out first and plays the most.

“They're all tough kids that play hard.”

Sarra played in eight games a year ago, including going up against Notre Dame in Dublin, Ireland, and playing in the team's Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl against Arizona State.

Pehrson called Sarra an intelligent player who has really helped himself by paying attention in meetings and listening to coaches.

Pehrson said Sarra “understands football and really cares about being a good player.”

Sarra said he has heard the “too short” story many times before, and it is kind of a battle cry for the Midshipmen.

“That's pretty much the story of 90 percent of Navy football players,” he told The Capital Gazette. “If we were all a little taller or a little faster we might have wound up somewhere else.

“I'm happy to be here and really wouldn't want it any other way. I think this is definitely a good fit for me.”

Navy opens the season Sept. 7 against Big Ten Conference member Indiana at Bloomington. The 6 p.m. game will televised on the Big Ten Network.

The Navy schedule includes a contest in Toledo (Oct. 19) and the annual Army-Navy game in Philadelphia (Dec. 14), as well as a home date with Pitt (Oct. 26) and a trip to Notre Dame (Nov. 2).

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

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