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Norwin football team pushes for postseason

| Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Photo compliments of Ray Adams Photography
The 2013 Norwin football team has playoff aspirations after finishing 2-7 a season ago.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Norwin's Kyle Baum catches a touchdown pass during the Westmoreland County Coaches Association 7 on 7 football tournament at Franklin Regional High School on July 18, 2013, in Murrysville.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Norwin coach Art Tragesser coaches during the Westmoreland County Coaches Association 7 on 7 football tournament at Franklin Regional High School on July 18, 2013, in Murrysville.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Norwin quarterback Nick Amendola passes during the Westmoreland County Coaches Association 7 on 7 football tournament at Franklin Regional High School on July 18, 2013, in Murrysville.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Norwin's Zach Hall participates in the Westmoreland County Coaches Association 7 on 7 football tournament at Franklin Regional High School on July 18, 2013, in Murrysville.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Norwin wide receiver Logan Deri catches a pass during the Westmoreland County Coaches Association 7 on 7 football tournament at Franklin Regional High School on July 18, 2013, in Murrysville.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Norwin quarterback Nick Amendola passes during the Westmoreland County Coaches Association 7 on 7 football tournament at Franklin Regional High School on July 18, 2013, in Murrysville.

The Norwin football team's goal is simple this season.

So simple, in fact, the Knights' players don't spend much time talking about it.

“I think it's just understood with the team,” sophomore quarterback Nick Amendola said. “We need to reach the playoffs.”

With talent returning at several key positions, Norwin doesn't just hope to make the playoffs in 2013 — the Knights expect it.

“Our minimum expectations are to make the playoffs and have a winning season this year,” coach Art Tragesser said. “That's what we're looking forward to. Obviously, that's our minimum goals. Hopefully, we can achieve more than that. But I think the kids are working hard. They've dedicated themselves to accomplishing those things.”

Should the Knights advance to the WPIAL playoffs this season, it would mark their first postseason appearance since 2010, Tragesser's first at the helm.

It also would represent remarkable growth from 2011, when the Knights went 0-9 and were outscored, 375-70 — including an 85-0 loss to Gateway.

“From 0-9 to now, things are completely different,” senior lineman Luke Milcic said.

“Everything's changed. We just have a different mentality. We're going to fight for everything now.”

Last season marked a slight improvement for Norwin, as the team won two games and stayed close in several others.

But while the players consider 2012 a step forward, it's not one they're satisfied with.

“We're not satisfied about two wins,” senior running back/linebacker Zack Tinsley said. “(It's) better than two years ago, but our expectation this year is to make the playoffs. We feel we can beat the teams in our conference. We're more motivated than we were last year.”

Unlike several of the teams in its conference, Norwin will benefit from a returning starter at quarterback. Amendola led the team in passing and rushing last season and accounted for 10 total touchdowns.

Amendola's teammates said the sophomore improved throughout the summer, as he helped lead the Knights to a second-place finish at the Westmoreland County Coaches Association 7-on-7 tournament in July.

“Without him, we wouldn't have done as good as we did in our 7-on-7s,” senior wide receiver/defensive back Kyle Baum said. “I feel like he's reading defenses a lot better. I feel like he's taking care of business and getting us the ball. I'm pretty confident in him.”

Norwin lost leading receiver and second-leading rusher Casey Rebosky to graduation, but the Knights will still surround Amendola with a deep group of playmakers that includes seniors Baum, Tinsley, Jake Kljucaric and Billy Zatezalo, juniors Logan Deri, Cavante Goins, Zeke Kljucaric and Anthony Schiavone and sophomore Peyton Deri. Tragesser said several of the players could line up at different spots.

“We feel great about (the talent we have), especially after seeing what we did at seven-on-sevens against good talent around the whole area and different states,” said Baum, who had 17 receptions as a junior. “I feel like we're going to do really good this year.”

Milcic is the only returning starter on the offensive line, but fellow seniors Garrett Cockeram, Devin McCurdy and Jake Reid also have experience.

“What's nice is we have a group of underclassmen (on the line) that I think their future's very bright,” Tragesser said. “They're going to be pushing a lot of people for playing time. But again, they're young. In Quad-A, we go with the best. We'll have to see, but we have some nice underclassmen coming up. Some size, too, which we're going to take a real good look at.

“If we get enough, hopefully we can come with seven or eight linemen that we can play. That will give our kids a chance to get a break on offense or defense.”

Defensively, the Knights will look to improve after allowing 33.2 points and nearly 350 yards per game last season.

“We must become a better defensive team,” Tragesser said. “We just cannot give up as many points as we've been giving up.”

Norwin's run defense especially struggled last season, as the team yielded more than 200 yards per game on the ground. The Knights will look to players such as Milcic and Cockeram on the line and Amendola, McCurdy, Tinsley and Zatezalo at linebacker to slow opponents' running games.

“We struggled against the run a lot last year, and I think all we need to do better on that is better tackling and more aggressiveness,” Zatezalo said.

Three-year starter Baum returns in the secondary, along with fellow starter Logan Deri. Peyton Deri and junior Zach Hall also gained experience on the back end last season.

The Knights will begin their season with a Quad East Conference game against Altoona at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 31 at Norwin Stadium. The team will face rival Penn-Trafford in the second game of the season, on Sept. 6.

“That (Altoona) game's a big momentum swing,” Zatezalo said. “I think that game predicts how we're going to play against (Penn-Trafford). If we come out and win that one, it's going to set the tone for the year.”

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-388-5830, via email at dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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