Uniontown banking on youth to lead team to postseason

| Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012, 8:55 p.m.

Uniontown's John Fortugna isn't worried about his team mastering Xs and Os.

But Fortugna is concerned about how quickly his team is going to mature as it attempts to snap a two-year playoff drought.

“This is probably one of the youngest teams I've ever coached,” Fortugna said. “Young kids are going to play, but when will they grow up? We're going to put a lot of young kids in the fire.”

Uniontown won just two games and finished near the bottom of the Keystone Conference standings last season.

Turnovers plagued the Red Raiders, which needs to change, the coach said.

“We're going to be fundamentally sound; we work on that all the time,” Fortugna said. “But turnovers are something you can't have.”

After taking over as starting quarterback late last season, junior Xavier Ellis is back to lead the offense.

“Xavier made some sophomore mistakes when we put him in the last two games as a starter,” Fortugna said. “But he handled the job well. He did a lot of good things, and he grew up really quick. Xavier is a very good athlete, and he has a lot of things that you can't teach.”

Senior Doug Lewis and junior Tristan Sandrosky are expected to lead a crowded group at running back.

“Doug didn't start right away, but we put him in for the last couple of games,” Fortugna said. “He got better and better. Then he broke his collarbone before our last game. Tristan started the whole year on defense, and eventually worked his way into the starting lineup on offense.”

Fortugna said he expects senior Jucqui Taylor and junior Bru Martin to see playing time at wideout.

The Red Raiders are undersized and inexperienced up front.

“We're probably going to start a lot of underclassmen,” Fortugna said.

On defense, Fortugna expects a lot of new faces as well, but he said the unit will be anchored by Sandrosky and senior Joe Linderman at linebacker.

One area Fortugna expects to be strong is special teams, with seniors Flyzell Williams at kicker and Jonathan Hagar at punter.

Despite all the uncertainty at several positions, Fortugna can't wait to start another season.

“You have to be hungry, and it was my job to make the kids hungry,” Fortugna said. “I put them through some hell in the winter program and they responded. The ones that didn't are no longer here.”

Uniontown will compete in the Big 9 Conference, although the section has a new look after offseason realignment.

Uniontown will battle Albert Gallatin, Belle Vernon, Elizabeth Forward, Laurel Highlands, Ringgold, Thomas Jefferson, Trinity and West Mifflin.

“It's a new conference, but we know Thomas Jefferson will be good,” Fortugna said. “West Mifflin will be good. Ringgold will be back. And we open with Belle Vernon, and that will be a big test.”

Uniontown has won just four conference games over the past two years after advancing to the WPIAL quarterfinals in 2009.

“We played in a tough conference last season, but that's not an excuse,” Fortugna said. “We had some bad breaks. We had a lot of turnovers and there were games we should have won that we lost. The kids worked hard, but it just didn't happen for us. If you have turnovers, you know what's going to happen.”

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