Serra football team adapting to rigors of WPIAL play

| Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012, 12:05 a.m.

Our Lady of the Sacred Heart's football program is readying for its third year of playing in the WPIAL, and the team has begun to establish itself as a postseason contender out of the Big Seven Conference.

It was certainly a tough squad for Serra Catholic to face Saturday in its first preseason scrimmage. But that will be nothing compared to what the Eagles will face when the regular season begins Aug. 31 against Brentwood.

Serra Catholic will be playing in the WPIAL's Class A Black Hills superconference, a 10-team section with seven teams that qualified for the 2011 WPIAL playoffs.

“It's a brutal schedule, the conference we're in,” Serra Catholic coach Jamie Eckels said. “It's going to be a big, physical game every week, and we have to get as good as we can get with a sophomore-dominated team.”

One of the key sophomores will be quarterback Zack Quattrane, who the team will rely on to run its complex triple-option offense. Though he doesn't have the game experience a signal-caller generally needs to run a multiple offense of this type, the Eagles are hoping he can quickly pick it up.

Then again, considering what has happened to Serra Catholic quarterbacks in recent years — East Allegheny sophomore starter Kyle Whipple enrolled at Serra Catholic before opting to stay with the Wildcats; its 2011 backup, sophomore Anthony Rosso, opted to play soccer — Quattrane's development is essential to the progress of the program.

“He's doing real well and he's learning, and the ‘trip' is a lot more difficult to learn, but we'll make some strides,” Eckels said. “He's gotten bigger physically since last year and is starting to understand his job as a triple-option quarterback.”

Quattrane won't be the only Serra Catholic player learning as he goes. The Eagles have only two seniors and four juniors, so most of the starting lineup will be playing its first varsity game in nine days.

“They're so young, and most of the kids that come to Serra haven't really played before, and the underclassmen — they have to (progress) a little bit at a time,” Eckels said. “We're just improving every day a little bit and we don't have a lot of kids, so we just try to do the best we can.”

Serra Catholic has struggled learning the triple option during the past two seasons. The Eagles are 5-14 since Eckels took over for Rich Bowen in 2010, and they will have one more opportunity to prepare for the season when it travels to Avella on Friday.

One of the few saving graces will be senior fullback Zack Varga, who has been the team's best performer in training camp. And he has the one intangible the team needs more than anything.

“He has great leadership,” Eckels said. “He's done really well playing at running back and … we moved the ball well against OLSH, but we're young at key positions. We're making progress, but we just don't have a lot of seniors and juniors that are playing.”

Keith Barnes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-664-9161, Ext. 1977.

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