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Despite shorthanded roster, Avella vying for playoff berth

| Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

Avella coach Ryan Cecchini enters the season with a roster of just 20 players, but his key contributors from last season are back to make a run at a WPIAL playoff berth.

The Eagles have a legitimate game-breaker in senior wide receiver Zach Thompson, who accounted for more than 1,000 total yards last season in receiving and kick returns.

“He's always a threat to go the distance,” Cecchini said of Thompson, who returned a pair of punts for scores in addition to his six receiving touchdowns.

Junior Santino Paris returns at quarterback, and Cecchini is looking forward to seeing him develop.

“He still has a lot of room to grow,” Cecchini said. “We might open up the offense a little bit more to take advantage of Santino's arm strength.”

In the backfield, junior Nick Kusich once again will carry the load at tailback, with senior Shawn Carl at fullback. Kusich and Carl also start at linebacker.

A 5-3 record in Tri-County South Conference play last season left Avella just outside the playoff picture, but Cecchini is hoping the Eagles' fortunes will change in 2013.

“Everybody knows what the goal is,” Cecchini said. “We haven't made the playoffs since 1976.

“The goal is to break the streak and take the next step forward.”

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