Uniontown players develop through growing pains

| Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

For Uniontown, the past two seasons have been full of growing pains.

The Red Raiders have won just two games in each of the past two years, but they appear poised to make a move in the Big 9 Conference.

A lineup of players who once was young and green hopes to benefit from two years of playing experience.

“The majority of our kids are back,” longtime Uniontown coach John Fortugna said. “We started nine sophomores last season, and that's the most since I've been coaching.”

Fortugna will have nearly his entire offensive unit back, including four starters on the offensive line.

Juniors Jeremy Perkins, Austin Williams, Joe Burke, Darius Pratt and Rodney Harris either started or saw significant playing time as sophomores, and the unit's play this season could go a long way in determining how good Uniontown's offense will be.

“Perkins is probably one of the best linemen on offense and defense that I've ever coached,” Fortugna said. “He was all-conference as a sophomore in the Big 9, and that's saying something. He played tackle for us last season, but he can play anywhere.”

Harris is 6-foot-3, 280 pounds, but otherwise Uniontown is undersized up front.

“We're not very big, so we're going to have to do some things to offset that,” Fortugna said. “That's why we run the spread, because it creates lanes for our backs.”

Senior Xavier Ellis will play quarterback. The athletic Ellis passed for nearly 700 yards and rushed for 458 last season.

Ellis will be joined in the backfield by running backs Doug Lewis and Tristan Sandrosky.

“Xavier's a gamer,” Fortugna said. “He's a natural athlete who does things we can't coach and you can't teach. He can tuck it in and run, but he's also a threat to throw the football. He can throw the ball 70 yards. … He has great arm strength.”

Lewis and Sandrosky didn't post gaudy numbers last season; the pair combined for just 553 yards. But Fortugna believes those numbers will improve.

“Lewis and Sandrosky are going to be seniors, and they're very capable of running the ball,” Fortugna said. “They're also very athletic and can catch the ball. We plan on putting them in the slot and utilizing them in that way, as well.”

The Red Raiders' strength on defense, according to Fortugna, will be the secondary. Jordan Pratt, Cantalamessa, Xavier Ellis, Lyric Ellis and Ariene Washington all figure to see playing time.

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