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All-Star football game helps Franklin Regional move on in wake of school stabbings

| Sunday, April 27, 2014, 10:39 p.m.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Defensive backs Colin Jonov (left) of Franklin Regional and Jake Johnson of West Allegheny observe the action during practice for the PSFCA East-West All-Star football game on Sunday, April 27, 2014, at Franklin Regional.

If Greg Botta could have been at Franklin Regional on Sunday to witness a football practice, he likely would have been there early and stayed late.

Botta, Franklin Regional's longtime football coach, loves the Murrysville community — and like others, he's ramped up his appreciation for it after the April 9 stabbings at the school.

“You've got to move forward,” Botta said.

One of his young players, linebacker Nate Moore, was among those injured that morning, when sophomore Alex Hribal allegedly slashed and stabbed 21 people in a hallway.

“Nate was on the field last night,” Botta said, referring to an informal team workout last week. “He came up to me and said, ‘Coach, this is the only place I want to be.' ”

It is yet another sign of solidarity in a community trying to move on.

Moore, who will be a junior at Franklin Regional next season, wasn't selected to play in the 13th annual Pennsylvania State Football Coaches Association East/West All-Star Game on Sunday at that same field, but two of his senior teammates — quarterback Charan Singh and wide receiver Colin Jonov — are on the West roster.

You can bet, too, that it's the only place Botta wants to be, right alongside guys like Moore, preparing for the start of another Franklin Regional football season.

But Botta, the PSFCA game manager, couldn't be there Sunday for the West team's practice because he was in Harrisburg as an assistant coach for a Pennsylvania team workout in advance of the annual Big 33 Football Classic against a Maryland team June 14 in Hershey.

Yet Botta said his home field and the community he loves never left his mind.

Welcome to Franklin Regional

Imagine living hundreds of miles from the site of the stabbings at Franklin Regional. Then, imagine reading about the tragic accounts from afar.

And then, just imagine going to Franklin Regional and preparing to play in an all-star football game there.

That is the way it is for many of those who were selected to participate in the PSFCA event. Even the players from nearby schools come with questions. Even if they had played a game in the past at Franklin Regional, in their minds now, it isn't the same setting.

Imagine the players on the East team who are from schools hours and hours away. The East team was practicing at Downingtown West in Chester County and won't go to Franklin Regional until this weekend.

“There will be intrigue, no question,” Botta said. “But it didn't take us long as a school to know that we were going to move forward with the game. There was no hesitation on anybody's mind.”

There shouldn't be any tentativeness for the visitors either, he said.

Singh, who is committed to Massachusetts as a cornerback but will play quarterback in the PSFCA game, hopes Franklin Regional will be a comfortable draw for some of the state's top football players.

“Of course, the other players look at the situation here as weird,” Singh said, “but I know that I am just going to welcome those guys in here, and we'll all be looking to play a good game.”

Staying together

The signs of solidarity are everywhere at Franklin Regional, “a very prideful school and community,” said West coach Pat Monroe, who coaches at South Allegheny.

“They're going through an awful lot here,” Monroe said. “They want to have this game without forgetting what happened, but they want to move in a positive direction. This is a demonstration of that, bringing some of the greatest players in the state together to set a positive example of what they have achieved and how they want to represent their own schools.”

It is, indeed, yet another way of getting in step with the Franklin Regional community, where hundreds of people have come together to pray and rally for solidarity in recent weeks.

“Everything that we do now, we want to show not only Murrysville, but the WPIAL and the state, that you've got to move forward,” Botta said.

Monroe, a Pennsylvania team assistant coach at the 2007 Big 33 Classic, can't wait to take his team into the PSFCA East/West All-Star Game.

“It's exciting to get together with a group of accomplished young men with a genuine focus of wanting to win the football game,” Monroe said. “They want to represent the western side of the state with pride. The competition on that field is the key to this thing. We're trying to get some cohesiveness here in a short period of time.”

Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at dmackall@tribweb.com.

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