Springdale 1st-year coach Napierkowski returns to alma mater Burrell for opener
Seth Napierkowski knows his way around Burrell's Buccaneer Stadium, but he still may need some directions finding the visiting locker room Friday night.
“I'm going to have to figure that out when I get there,” said Napierkowski, Springdale's first-year football coach and a former star quarterback at Burrell.
That Napierkowski's first career game as a head coach will come in the place where he made countless memories as a player figures to bring emotions into the equation. He's doing his best to make sure those emotions don't control him or his team in their first test of the season.
“It's just going to be fun,” he said. “A lot of people that I know are going to be there. It'll be mixed emotions for me, certainly, but we're going to prepare hard this week and do everything we can to come out of there with a victory.”
As it is, the game will bring out the emotions from both sides after a long offseason of strength and conditioning and non-contact workouts, followed by three weeks that include heat acclimatization, training camp and a scrimmage.
After all that, Burrell and Springdale feel more than ready to get the season started.
“It feels like eternity,” Burrell senior Seth Tatrn said. “We're putting in the work all offseason, we're working hard, and it feels like it couldn't come soon enough.”
The WPIAL's Week Zero format, which made its debut last season, allows teams to schedule an extra nonconference game instead of a second scrimmage.
Burrell and Springdale are meeting for the second consecutive summer; the Bucs won 33-20 last season.
“Right now, this counts,” Springdale senior Matt Schlessman said. “Really, this is the start of the season. We need to punch that ticket. We've just got to show other teams what we're made of. We're a different team this year, and we've got a few surprises up our sleeve.”
Last year's game between Burrell and Springdale marked the first meeting between the Alle-Kiski Valley schools since 1985, and it lived up to its billing. The teams were tied until late in the second quarter before a Burrell touchdown just before halftime gave the Bucs an advantage they wouldn't relinquish.
“The one thing that we focused on this year based on what happened last year was we were not in very good shape,” said Napierkowski, an offensive assistant for Springdale last season. “They wore us down physically in the third and fourth quarters last year, and that ended up being our demise. So we really focused this year on correcting that.”
When Napierkowski got the Springdale job after Dave Leasure's resignation in the offseason, it added another layer to this matchup.
“Very excited about it,” said Burrell coach Dave Bellinotti, who knows Napierkowski and his family well from Napierkowski's playing days. “Springdale's an old rival here, and then we've got some extra incentive in there because of the local ties with Seth Napierkowski, who was a very, very good player here. I'm sure he wants to come up here and do well, and I'm sure they will do well.
“It's just amazing how fast everything goes: the winter workouts, and then through heat acclimatization and camp, and now you're here. It's just amazing.”
Because this meeting counts as a game and not a scrimmage, both teams spent considerable time game planning, studying each other's tendencies. They scrutinized last Saturday's scrimmages — Burrell played Ambridge and Springdale played Chartiers-Houston.
But both coaches admitted to some mystery, given Napierkowski's status as a first-year coach and Burrell's offseason changes. Both teams are breaking in new quarterbacks — Tatrn at Burrell and Josh Jones at Springdale — and replacing other key players.
“It comes down to, at the end of the day from a coaching perspective, how are the kids going to respond?” Bellinotti said. “You can do all the X's and O's you want, but at the end of the day it comes down to the players executing and having some fun with it.”
Both Burrell and Springdale will play another nonconference game in Week 1, giving each two contests to get ready for rugged conference play, another benefit.
But Friday's game allows both the Bucs and the Dynamos to make an early statement. Burrell is looking to put last season's injury-plagued campaign behind it, while Springdale is hoping to keep its tradition rolling under its first-year coach.
“You start to lose the guys after a while of two-a-days and going through that grind,” Napierkowski said. “So this is a really nice reward for them for all the hard work they've put in in the summer and the two weeks of heat (acclimatization) and camp to really go out and have something to play for.”
Said Bellinotti: “Your helmets are all shined up, and the logos and emblems are on them. So everyone's a little more excited. The lights are on nice and bright, it's a Friday night and it's a traditional schedule. I think the guys die to get to that schedule.”