Experienced linemen to pace Kittanning offense
The names racking up yardage will be different this year, but that doesn't mean Kittanning coach Frank Fabian has a totally inexperienced group.
The Wildcats bring back an experienced line that Fabian hopes will offset losses at other positions to make his second season at Kittanning as successful as the first.
Kittanning improved from 1-8 to 4-5 in Fabian's first season, but where his group last year had most of its experience at the skill positions, many of this year's veterans are players up front.
“Last year felt like we were inexperienced on the line, and this year seems to be the polar opposite,” Fabian said. “We lost our leading passer and top two rushers, but we've got guys up front that we're really going to lean on.”
Left tackle Logan Robb and guards Dave Grafton and Brady Kirkwood return from starting roles last year, and that trio is ready to take on more of a leadership role this season.
Their experience, plus having a year of play under Fabian's offense, has the Kittanning offense feeling good entering the season.
“A lot of us (on the line) have started for two or three years now, so we have a lot of experience,” Grafton said. “We're way ahead of where we were last year. Last year, we were still learning the plays in camp, but this year, we're weeks ahead of that.”
The team also has some experience outside the tackles in senior Nick Bowers and junior Logan Slagle, who are the top two returning receivers.
Slagle's workload picked up last season after Bowers — leading the team in receiving yards at the time — was injured early in the year with a concussion, but Slagle also suffered a season-ending injury in Week 6. Both are back and in line to be two-way contributors.
“Nick's a kid that started two ways as a sophomore. He's a really big, physical kid, and at the time of his injury, he was our best two-way player at receiver and linebacker,” Fabian said.
“Logan's also a big contributor for us at cornerback and as a slot receiver, and both of those guys have had a good year working out and in the weight room.”
Those veteran players should make life easier for junior quarterback Braydon Toy, who has stepped into the lead role behind center in workouts and seven-on-seven play.
“I like the challenge coming into that role,” Toy said. “We're coming together pretty good in practice. It's really comfortable knowing (the line and receivers) have been at the varsity level, and they know what to expect.”
The one thing Kittanning players and coaches agree upon is they want to take another step forward this year.
A 20-17 loss in the final minute of the penultimate game against Valley ended kept Wildcats out of last year's playoffs, which makes reaching the postseason the team's top goal.
“(Last season) does motivate us. I feel like we can win more games than we did last year,” Bowers said. “We've been working since as soon as school let out for summer. We want to win the first game, then keep working for each one after that.”
Slagle added: “We really want the playoffs this year. The coaches tell us to always do extra. Do anything you can to make yourself better. I think we're getting better every day and getting more comfortable working with each other.”