Dual-threat Romanchak ready to lead Freeport back to playoffs
Austin Romanchak grew up with a mentor in his backyard.
He watched his older brother, Andrew, develop his athletic skills and mold himself into a key football player at Freeport.
Austin was in seventh and eighth grade when Andrew guided the Yellowjackets at quarterback. In 2013 and 2014, Andrew Romanchak threw for a combined 2,508 yards and 18 touchdowns and ran for 1,005 yards and an additional 13 scores.
Austin joined the Freeport varsity program two years ago, and he started out as a wide receiver on varsity and a quarterback on the junior varsity.
With the graduation of quarterback Ryan Weigold after the 2015 campaign, he made the move under center.
And he hasn't looked back.
Austin Romanchak, at 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds, enters his junior season, his second as Freeport's starting signal caller, hoping to again be a dual-threat who can guide the Yellowjackets to a familiar place — the WPIAL playoffs.
"It was a big letdown not making the playoffs last year," said Romanchak, who threw for 676 yards and nine touchdowns in 2016 and added 666 yards and five scores on the ground.
Freeport finished 4-5 overall and 3-4 in the 3A Allegheny Conference. The Yellowjackets ended the season with four consecutive losses after a 4-1 start.
"It's been a big goal of ours since last season ended to get back to where we want to be," Romanchak said. "We had a different mindset starting in January right through the summer to work hard and to take advantage of every opportunity, whether it was in the weight room or on the field."
Romanchak, for his part, made it a point to get stronger. He put on 15 pounds of muscle and supplemented his training and workouts with Freeport teammates with time at E.T.H.I.C. Training in Wexford under the direction of former Pitt standout and NFL player Darnell Dinkins.
"He helped me with a lot of my speed work, footwork and agility," Romanchak said. "I can really see the difference."
Romanchak understands he will be a focal point of the offense. The passing game, he said, looked strong throughout 7-on-7 evnts this summer. Seniors Jake Sarvar and Luke Kennedy are the top returning pass catchers and lead what Romanchak said is a deep position.
"I've been getting more confident in the pocket throwing the ball," he said. "Last year, we struggled throwing the ball late in the season. We now have so many options in the passing game. It's really coming together."
Romanchak said he likes that the coaches and his teammates trust him to run, including times when he surveys the field during a pass play and tucks the ball and scamper through the defense.
"I try to pay that trust back by running hard when my number is called or when I think running is necessary," said Romanchak, who closely follows dual-threat Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson from Louisville.
"But we are definitely looking to pass it more."
Senior offensive lineman and Division I prospect Matt Charlton knows that everyone needs to expect an occasional improvised run from Romanchak.
Charlton, along with fellow senior lineman Austin Kemp, were accustomed to Weigold, a dual-threat quarterback.
"We have a lot of schemes based on the fact that Austin is such a dual threat," Charlton said. "We understand that he has a lot of tools himself and a lot of weapons around him in the running and passing games. He's good at letting us know what a defense's tendencies might be so we can work well getting the right play executed."
Romanchak isn't limited to playing offense. Last year, he made 42 tackles (22 solo) from his cornerback position and added an interception and a fumble recovery.
The depth at receiver, Romanchak said, will allow defensive players to get more rest.
Freeport coach John Gaillot said he's excited to see what Romanchak can do with a season of starting experience and a productive offseason in the books.
"Austin has the drive to exceed his potential and the expectations set for him by others," Gaillot said. "His brother had that same drive. Austin really opened our eyes last year to how shifty he was running the ball. He's gotten a lot faster, too. We always tell him, 'If you're not 100 percent sure about a throw, run it.' We're confident he will get us at least five yards with his legs."
The hope is Romanchak gets hundreds of yards with his legs and arm and helps Freeport to the 3A playoffs. That journey begins Aug. 25 with a Week Zero game against Yough.
The Yellowjackets jump into Allegheny Conference play Sept. 8 at Deer Lakes.
Michael Love is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @Mlove_Trib.