NFL connections dot Central Catholic's football roster this season
Gus Frerotte experienced quarterback battles in his 15 years in the NFL. This one might feel a little different.
The former Pro Bowl quarterback, now an assistant coach at Central Catholic, watched Monday as his son Gunnar opened camp in a competition with teammate Mike Navarro for the Vikings' starting job.
As the team's quarterbacks coach, Frerotte must balance his roles as dad and assistant.
“It doesn't matter who you are, you've got to earn it,” said Gus Frerotte, who retired after the 2008 season. “You're not going to just walk into it. Gunnar and I have had a lot of those talks. I'm harder on him than any other coach.”
The younger Frerotte accepts the challenge.
“It's nice to have competition,” he said, “because otherwise you don't improve at all.”
Central Catholic opened football camp Monday along with the rest of the WPIAL and City League.
The Vikings are defending WPIAL Class AAAA champions and state runners-up. But their camp will have plenty of competition.
In the next three weeks of practice, the Vikings must replace much of the offense and several members of the defense that played last December in Hershey.
“Every year is a new challenge,” coach Terry Totten said, “a new group of kids.”
Among this year's group, Central Catholic has five players with fathers who played in the NFL.
Along with Gunnar and his younger brother Gabe, a sophomore lineman, the roster includes junior Braxton Swann, son of Hall of Famer Lynn; senior Grant Foster, son of former Steelers tailback Barry; and sophomore Jamain Stephens, whose father, Jamain, was a first-round pick by the Steelers.
Gunnar Frerotte, Swann, Foster and Stephens play the same positions their fathers once played.
“You tell them to do whatever (position) they want,” Gus Frerotte said, “but they fall into those.”
Gunnar Frerotte played linebacker for the junior varsity last season and running back in youth leagues. This year, he moved to quarterback, in part to follow his dad.
That switch could come with extra scrutiny and lofty expectations. His father, a Ford City graduate, was a Pro Bowl pick in 1996.
“That's what I worry about. He's got a lot of pressure on him,” Gus Frerotte said. “He'll probably be way better than me, so I don't worry about it. But I'm trying to make him the best he can be.”
Inevitably, some will compare Gunnar, a 6-foot quarterback, to his father. The younger Frerotte is ready for that.
“I'm a different type of quarterback than he was,” Gunnar Frerotte said. “A little smaller and faster. But they expect the best out of me because of him. I've got big shoes to fill.”
Similarly, if you're a receiver in Pittsburgh named Swann, you'd better be able to catch.
“I'm sure Swann would be the most (recognizable name) in Pittsburgh,” Totten said. “Foster had a great run, but that was awhile ago. Frerotte was out of town. So, I'd say the most is on Braxton Swann. But I'm sure everywhere they go, they hear about their father.”
Swann (6-0, 180) could play receiver or defensive back. His older brother Shafer was a starter at Central Catholic last season.
“The team does a pretty good job of keeping us down to earth,” Swann said. “I don't have any higher expectations than anybody else on the team.”
Once healthy, Foster will be the team's featured tailback. Gunnar Frerotte and Swann both could work their ways into the starting lineup.
Foster had knee surgery in January to repair a torn medial collateral ligament. At 6-2, 193 pounds, he's a few inches taller and 30 pounds lighter than his father, who was a Pro Bowl pick in 1992 and '93. Barry Foster, who lives in Texas, visited Central Catholic workouts earlier this summer, Totten said.
Gus Frerotte is there every day.
“Those other guys smile a lot more because their fathers aren't out here yelling at them the whole time,” he said with a laugh.
The Frerottes moved to Oakmont last year after seven years in St. Louis. In Missouri, Gus Frerotte was a high school head coach at John Burroughs for two years. His teams had a 23-6 record and twice were state runners-up.
He joined the Central Catholic staff last year as a freshman team assistant and moved to the varsity this season. That allowed him to spend more time with Gunnar.
“It's good and bad because sometimes it's hard to separate coach and dad,” Gus Frerotte said. “Once you're a coach, that's how you always coach. And sometimes your kid has a hard time separating that.”
“He's coached me my whole life, from fifth grade up,” Gunnar Frerotte said. “At home you just have to drop all the sports stuff. Just be dad and son. It's hard not to talk about it. But at the end of the day, I'd rather have him coaching me than anyone else.”
When it comes time to end the quarterback battle, Coach Frerotte will attempt to stay impartial.
“I try to let the other coaches make that decision,” Gus Frerotte said. “I've told them that's a hard place for me to be in, not only with the players but with the parents and all that. I'll just coach them.”