First-year football coach looks to return Chartiers Valley to winning ways
Niel Loebig fully understands how important recruiting is at the college level after serving six seasons as an assistant for the Duquesne football team.
Little did he know he still would be recruiting when he took over as coach of Chartiers Valley.
After being named the Colts' coach in the spring, Loebig was on a mission to get as many players out for the team as possible. After talking to other coaches and returning players, he compiled a list of athletes who did not play last year but could contribute to the team.
He then called the players in and discussed what he wanted to do with the program and how they could help it get there.
“We have seven upperclassmen out this season who didn't play last year,” Loebig said. “It felt like I was heading into a college season again. We are excited to have guys like Dom Castello, Anthony Egnatz and Connor DePofi come out.”
The returning players have taken notice of Loebig's effort to get Chartiers Valley on the right track and have embraced the coaching change.
“The culture around here is a lot better,” senior Andreo Coury said. “I am personally excited about the change. The new coaches are young, smart and dedicated. They put work in. We are all excited to get back to playing and learning new things.”
Many will be looking forward to what changes Loebig will bring to the offense due to his background in the sport.
In addition to serving on the Dukes' offensive staff for six seasons, he was a quarterback for Duquesne and South Fayette during his playing days.
A quarterback competition has been underway during August's three-a-days to see who will lead the offense Loebig described as multiple.
He would like to see a 50/50 split between pass and run, but it might get skewed in favor of what the Colts' strength turns out to be. Last year's starter Josh Lapiana returns for his senior season after passing for 1,036 yards and eight touchdowns.
But he will get competition from fellow senior Castello and sophomore Jake Collins.
“(Collins) has come a long way from Day 1,” Loebig said. “We are really happy with how he has progressed. We won't know the starter until we take the field against Moon.
Whoever gets the starting nod will have no lack of targets with seniors Castello, DePofi, C.J. Beatty and Anthony Voss — along with juniors Egnatz and James Pachis — competing at the wide receiver position.
Running back was hit hard by graduation, but the team has a number of options to fill the void. Coury was the team's leading receiver with 385 yards and seven touchdowns but is making the move to tailback.
The Colts will have fullbacks in senior Ryan O'Connell and junior Mike Roper.
Junior Austin Gromeck will look for more carries in 2013.
“My ball-carrying improved during the offseason,” the running back said. “Everything has, really. I think the line will be one of the best Chartiers Valley has had in a few years, so that should help.”
Senior captains Ben Kumpf (guard) and Hunter Steel (tackle ) lead an experienced line that also includes senior tackle Ryan Bush, senior guard Kamron Lewis and junior center Christo Boulos.
“We have four guys who started last year, and our center played nose guard,” Steel said. “We have a lot of experience coming in.”
Steel and Kumpf expressed pride in being named captains of the 2013 squad and look forward to leading the line — and offense — to success.
“It means a lot,” Kumpf said. “I have been playing since I was 7 years old, and it is kind of a dream to be a captain. We have almost all seniors this year on the line, so it should be a strong point.”
The defense will look to improve under new coordinator Bob Kitchen, whose previous coaching stops include West Mifflin and Steel Valley.
The Colts had the second-worst defense in Class AAA last season as they surrendered 40.7 points per game, ahead of only Derry's 44.4 average.
“Our defense was a disappointment last year,” Coury said. “But there is a renewed energy. We are starting with the basics and building from the ground up. We're looking good.”
Loebig would not go into details on what the defense will look like, but he did say the coaches are emphasizing tackling.
“We want the defensive personnel to be in position to make plays,” Loebig said. “We are not concerned with big hits or collisions. If someone is in position to make a tackle, we want them to do it. There has been a big emphasis on tackling.”
The team does have several returning athletes on defense to lead the way.
Steel and Boulos saw time at defensive tackle, and Kumpf was a presence at defensive end. Coury will give the secondary a boost with his return. Senior Zach Collins has looked strong at corner.
Several new faces will be mixed in as Roper will be a presence at inside linebacker. Castello — described by Loebig as the team's do-it-all player — has been learning the outside linebacker, free safety and cornerback positions.
“I have been learning everything,” the senior said. “As long as I am on the field, I don't care where I am at. I just want to help the team.”
The defense will look to shut down its opponents in the Parkway Conference. While Loebig is new to the team, he knows the difficulty of the league.
“The last four WPIAL (Class AAA) champions have been from the conference,” Loebig said.
Loebig has hopes of leading Chartiers Valley to conference titles, runs in the playoffs and Heinz Field. But for now, he is keeping things simple.
Improvement is the key word around Chartiers Valley practices. Loebig wants the Colts to get better every play of every practice.
Outside of that, the Colts are focused on the Aug. 30 season opener.
“We are focused on Moon,” Loebig said. “As crazy as it sounds, I couldn't tell you who the opponent is in Week 2.”
Nathan Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-388-5813.