Ford City confident it can remain among conference elite
Even in years when they don't hear their team's name at the top of the list of Allegheny Conference favorites, Ford City's players are confident they'll find a way to enter the discussion.
The Sabers, playoff qualifiers eight of the last nine years, begin this season without much buzz. But they're an experienced team and eager to convert doubters, two qualities that coach John Bartolovic believes can lead to a breakout season.
“I think we have some nice athletic potential,” Bartolovic said. “It might just come down to whether a couple plays go our way or not.”
About half of Ford City's starters are proven at the varsity level. Arguably none provide more versatility than senior Devan Willyard, who was named first-team All-Allegheny Conference as a defensive back, rushed for 850 yards and two touchdowns on 126 carries as a running back, caught 27 passes for 362 yards and two scores, and returned kicks and punts.
Also back for the Sabers as two-way threats are seniors Dave Lattanzio and Ben Young.
Lattanzio started at quarterback and had two interceptions as a defensive back last season. He hopes to improve his offensive production — he completed 42 of 71 attempts for 496 yards and one touchdown — and believes new schemes introduced by Bartolovic give him a better chance to thrive.
“You'll just have to come to the game,” Lattanzio said when asked about the specific changes. “It's a big surprise.”
Young, meanwhile, scored three touchdowns as a ball carrier and earned first-team all-conference honors at linebacker. He'll move into the fullback spot and serve as the Sabers' battering ram.
“Ben Young, I believe, has a lot of potential,” said Bartolovic, who noted that Young missed an entire season two years ago with a broken ankle. “It's almost like he played his sophomore year in his junior year. So I think he could have a great season for us. And some of those linemen could be sleepers.”
Many of the boys charged with blocking for Ford City's ball carriers are second-year starters. After playing at 150 pounds a season ago, senior Gino Peluso gained enough weight to become a formidable presence. And seniors Cody Atherton, Ken Bowers, Seth Frazier and Jake Scoccimerra grew familiar enough with Ford City's playbook and with each other that Bartolovic began adding new wrinkles weeks before anyone suited up in shoulder pads.
A sense of trust among players and coaches actually is one of Ford City's greatest strengths. Young said squabbles between players in the huddle, prevalent a season ago, no longer appear.
“We pick each other up when we make mistakes instead of yelling at each other,” senior wide receiver and defensive back Justin Retzer said.
“We've still got talent on our team; however, I think the key to this team is chemistry,” said junior kicker and punter Tyler Blaniar, who will replace all-conference special teams star Andrew Huska. “I believe chemistry can overcome talent.”