ShareThis Page

Penn-Trafford football has championship expectations

| Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Lillian DeDomenic | For Trib Total Media
The Penn-Trafford football team poses on team photo day Aug. 15, 2014, at Warrior Stadium.
Barry Reeger | Trib Total Media
Penn-Trafford quarterback Brett Laffoon passes during the Westmoreland County Coaches Association seven-on-seven football tournament at Franklin Regional High School on July 17, 2014, in Murrysville.
Steph Chambers | TRIB TOTAL MEDIA
Penn-Trafford football player Tim Vecchio (3) junior on Thursday, July 17, 2014.
Lillian DeDomenic | For Trib Total Media
The captains for the 2014 Penn-Trafford football team are, from left, Donovan McNelis, Devin Austin, Sam Guzik, Lance Burk and Trey Blandford.
Steph Chambers | TRIB TOTAL MEDIA
Penn-Trafford football player Zack Queen (2) senior on Thursday, July 17, 2014.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Penn Trafford head coach John Ruane watches the action during the Westmoreland County Coaches Association seven-on-seven football tournament at Franklin Regional High School on July 17, 2014, in Murrysville.

Penn-Trafford football players know all about the high expectations outsiders have for their team this season.

In many ways, those expectations match their own.

One season after advancing to the WPIAL Class AAAA semifinals for the first time since 1997, Penn-Trafford is looking for bigger things. And the Warriors aren't just hoping for success; they're expecting it.

“I think our whole mentality has changed in the fact that just making the playoffs isn't good enough anymore,” senior lineman Trey Blandford said. “We want to go win a WPIAL championship. Every team's goal is to win one, but that's how we feel.”

Last season, Penn-Trafford endured some early ups and downs before putting together its playoff run. The Warriors started the season 4-3, losing games to North Hills, McKeesport and Kiski Area before closing out the regular season with wins over Gateway and Hempfield.

The victories over the Gators and Spartans propelled the Warriors into the playoffs, where they beat Penn Hills and McKeesport before bowing out with a 49-10 loss to Pittsburgh Central Catholic in the semifinals.

“One thing we want to do is have a better regular season,” said senior H-back/linebacker Sam Guzik. “People often forget about that because of the nice playoff run we made, but we had a shaky regular season. And then obviously our goal is to go to Heinz (Field) and go to Hershey and win (WPIAL and state titles).”

The semifinal loss motivated the Warriors throughout the offseason, as some special teams lapses cost the team against Central Catholic. Penn-Trafford coach John Ruane said the Warriors spent a large chunk of their offseason working on special teams.

“It was a terrible loss,” senior linebacker Lance Burk said. “We hear about it every day. Coach brings it up, trying to push us to be better. Special teams was a huge role in that game, and we've got to definitely get better at those, get our minds straight and get better.”

Heading into the 2014 season, Penn-Trafford will benefit from seven returning starters on each side of the ball.

“We have a lot of returning starters from last year, which is obviously a big part,” senior running back Devin Austin said. “A couple starters that we lost on offense and defense, people have stepped up and filled those positions. I think they're going to do a good job.”

Offensively, the Warriors return their leading rusher, passer and receiver from 2013. In addition to Austin, who rushed for 1,285 yards and seven touchdowns, junior wide receiver Timmy Vecchio (682 receiving yards, nine touchdowns) and junior quarterback Brett Laffoon (1,430 passing yards, 13 TDs) return.

But Ruane said he expected big things out of some lesser-known names, such as wide receivers Tyler Bruno, Joe Peduzzi, Zack Queen, Austin Zegarelli and running backs Jonah Lisbon, Gabe Mertz and Justin Smith. Those players will help offset the losses of Ryan Marasti and Tom Stinelli at wide receiver and running back, respectively.

“I think we have some different guys who can surprise some people,” Ruane said. “We have some speed, and we have some athleticism. ... We have the potential to be (a dynamic offensive team). We'll find out that first Friday how good we can be.”

Tight end Chris Stanford returns up front for Penn-Trafford, as do Blandford and Donovan McNelis at guard and Dan Sich at tackle.

“(Our offensive line has) a great chemistry,” McNelis said. “We hang out all the time. We work out all the time. We all know each other. With that running back we have, we should be fine this year.”

Defensively, the Warriors' biggest strength comes on the line. Blandford, an all-state selection last season, returns at defensive end, as does Stanford. Defensive tackle Andre Guest also returns as a starter.

“To put (Blandford and Stanford) at defensive end is great for everybody else on the field because they're going to command attention from offensive linemen and backs,” Ruane said. “They're both big, strong, physical, athletic guys who set the tone for us on defense.”

McNelis, Sich and Garrett Smith will also see time on the defensive line.

At linebacker, Guzik will move from the outside to the inside. Burk, one of the team's leading tacklers from last season, also returns at inside linebacker. Lisbon will move up from safety to play outside linebacker, and Zegarelli should also see time there.

“We might not be as big as last year's guys, but we might be more athletic,” Ruane said. “(Guzik) was a tremendous player for us last year. We expect him to have a big impact on both sides of the ball for us.”

Queen returns at cornerback and will be joined by Austin and Vecchio, while Peduzzi will play safety.

Special teams remains an unknown, but Penn-Trafford's roster includes three kickers/punters in Casey Aunkst, Josh Ivanco and Ben Long. Ruane said the team emphasized working on special teams in the offseason after struggling at times last season, most notably in the semifinal loss.

Penn-Trafford will begin the season Aug. 29 at Kiski Area.

“I have 100 percent mindset that our team is ready to go out and win a championship,” Guzik said. “It's such a close group. None of us want this to end, so we're going to keep this going as long as we can, keep winning and hopefully bring home two championships.”

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

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.