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Altoona looks to build on last season's foundation

| Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, 8:55 p.m.
Altoona's John Franco watches his team practice in his second season as head coach of the Mountain Lions on August 15, 2013 in Altoona, PA
Altoona's Eli Mencer looks downfield for a receiver during preseason practice Aug. 15, 2013.

A new culture continues to take form in Altoona as John Franco returns for his second season in his second stint with the Mountain Lions.

The veteran coach led Altoona to a 4-6 record last season, including a 4-4 mark in the Quad East, which was good enough for a three-way tie for fourth with Hempfield and Kiski Area.

“It was a tough transition last year, no doubt. We needed to change a lot in the football program,” Franco said. “The total change of the culture of the team was tough for everyone, including both the players and coaches. Last season's performance was expected, but now we are built on a good foundation. We need to take that and improve on last season's performance for this year.”

Franco might have the numbers to compete on weekly basis but could be lacking some of the school's top athletes who participate in other sports.

He hopes to add to the team's skill level by going back to the basics, focusing on fundamentals and improving practice habits.

“I expect us to be better at how to perform to the expectations that I set. I expect us to practice better and to learn how to play in the system better,” Franco said.

“I expect us to better understand how to meet and understand the requirements of the program. We had poor practice habits last year. Everything stems from there.”

The Mountain Lions will look to replace their leading passer, rusher, and receiver, who all graduated. Altoona will miss quarterback Brennan Luciano, running back Avery Howsare and wide receiver Jake Diviney.

Franco will turn to more of a junior-laden lineup, including quarterback Eli Mencer, but also will lean on a core of seniors this season. Altoona will look for leadership from linemen Nate Schienberg and Nate Farlow as well as fullback-linebacker Kevin Givens. Many other roster spots remain up for grabs.

The Mountain Lions could see a spike in interest from local athletes if they stayed closer to home and played rivals from the District 6 days.

“We need to get back to playing our rivals in Central Pennsylvania. The WPIAL is a great conference, and it's a lot fun to face the top competition,” Franco said. “Unfortunately, nobody likes it in Altoona. I think we need get out of it and play our rivals that Altoona is used to playing. However, we are bound to the WPIAL for the next couple of years so we need to get used to it.”

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