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Young Serra squad struggling with low participation

| Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012, 5:52 p.m.
Serra's Michael Mercea practices kickoffs during practice. Ron Vezzani | For The Daily News
Serra's Jason Albring works out with strength coach Tom Perciavalle. Ron Vezzani | For The Daily News
Serra will rely on quarterback Zack Quattrane to run the flexbone offense. Ron Vezzani | For The Daily News

Jamie Eckels has accomplished about everything a football coach can over a career.

The innovator of the famed flexbone offense in the WPIAL, Eckels won WPIAL titles, state titles and countless conference titles over 19 years as an assistant with McKeesport.

Nowadays as Serra Catholic's football coach, his job description has changed a little — he's trying to round up any kid within the school to play on the team and hoping that he has enough to field a team on seemingly a daily basis.

Case in point was during the first day of volunteer workouts in late July when seven kids showed up.

Still, Eckels plods along in trying to rebuild a program that's fallen on hard times ever since winning the WPIAL title five years ago.

“The reason why I still do this is that I still think I can affect kids' lives,” said Eckels, who retired from teaching last year.

“I want to make them better kids and to show them how to play the game of football. Football is a great game. It is something that I've done all my life, and really, I can't afford to play golf every day on my retirement check.”

But even the most dedicated coaches have to question whether it's worth the hassle, let alone a coach who recently went through a six-bypass surgery.

“I still love to coach,” Eckels said. “That's the only reason why I do it.”

Serra has struggled during Eckels' two years as head coach, going 5-14 and missing the playoffs, but nothing has struggled more than Eckels' triple-option offense.

Since Eckels took over, Serra has averaged 12 points per game. Take away two games against hapless Bentworth in which the Eagles scored 102 points, Serra has averaged a mere six points per game over two years.

Eckels final year leading the McKeesport offense in 2009, the Tigers averaged 37 points per game.

With quarterback Anthony Rosso, who filled in for the injured Trevor Jaworski late last year, deciding to play soccer instead of football, Eckels will turn to a sophomore who has never taken a varsity snap.

Eckels hopes sophomore quarterback Zack Quattrane (5-10, 152) will get Serra's offense back on track.

“He can throw the ball and has some speed,” Eckels said. “He is not blazing fast, but he can run well.”

Eckels admits that he will have to scale back the offense to help along the young and inexperienced quarterback.

“I think he can be good,” Eckels said. “He is a pretty good athlete, so he can do some things.”

Aiding Quattrane in his attempts to score will be kicker Michael Mercea, a soccer player who may be a weapon for the Eagles.

Serra will be very young this year with Zack Varga and Jason Albring being the only seniors.

“We are young,” Eckels said. “Very young.”

The offensive line will have four sophomores to go along with Albring.

“I know we are physically stronger than we have ever been,” Eckels said. “We just don't have a lot of kids. That's the biggest thing. If anybody gets hurt, we are going to be in trouble.”

It won't help that Serra is part of one of the toughest conferences in the WPIAL.

With realignment, Serra will share a conference with Clairton, Monessen, Brentwood, California, Bishop Canevin, Fort Cherry, Carlynton, Chartiers-Houston and Imani Christian.

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