New East Allegheny coach welcomes familiar foe
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East Allegheny won't officially hold its homecoming festivities until Oct. 12 when Freeport makes a visit to Churchman Stadium.
Unofficially, there will certainly be a reunion of sorts for first-year head coach Jason Ruscitto at 10 a.m. Saturday when the Wildcats host Sto-Rox in the team's first preseason scrimmage.
Ruscitto was the head coach at Sto-Rox from 2004-09 and left the school when his contract wasn't renewed after an 8-3 season that included a third-place finish in the Century Conference and an upset victory against Shady Side Academy in the opening round of the WPIAL Class AA playoffs.
“At least they're coming to our place,” Ruscitto said. “It's a long-standing scrimmage and should be a good scrimmage for both teams, that's for sure. But it's going to be good to see some of those players.”
Though Sto-Rox and East Allegheny have met in scrimmages in prior years, there might be a bit more tension than has been present previously. Ruscitto, though, is trying to downplay that as much as possible as he attempts to keep his team focused on what it has to do to prepare for the regular season opener in two weeks against Summit Academy.
“It doesn't matter to me because I'm an East Allegheny Wildcat now,” Ruscitto said. “I'm focused on our football team and getting ourselves better and working on things like our team chemistry because we're concentrating on the future and not the past.”
Ruscitto did come into a good situation for his first year at the school. Not only did East Allegheny qualify for the 2011 postseason out of the brutal Interstate Conference, the team brought back almost all of its starters and skill-position players.
With that in mind, the Wildcats have spent most of their time adjusting to a new coaching system and different terminology. It has also taken away the potential for training camp positional battles.
“If you look down our roster, we only have three juniors on our roster, but we have a large group of seniors that have experience,” Ruscitto said. “We went into camp knowing who had experience playing football and few of those battles really emerged because of the experience of our team.”
There are still a few questions to be answered of course, like how sophomore quarterback Kyle Whipple deals with coming into the season as a starter for the first time and how much talented skill-position players Shawn Adair and K.J. Marshall have improved in the offseason. The scrimmages will certainly go a long way toward demonstrating the Wildcats talent level.
But with the positions all but decided, the coaching staff, in addition to handling the base Xs and Os and conditioning at the team's camp at California (Pa.) University, tried to unify the players into a tight-knit group. Now that they have that week under their belt, though, the Wildcats will have to show the results on the field.
“We went to camp with the aspirations of coming together as a family, and we hope that we can continue that process,” Ruscitto said. “We just hope that we can put it together with a lot of team chemistry and camaraderie.”
Keith Barnes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-664-9161, ext. 1977.
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