Apollo-Ridge coach familiar with conference changes

| Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012, 7:28 p.m.

After coming to Apollo-Ridge from Class AAAA Pine-Richland High School last year, Vikings coach John Skiba had to learn a new set of opponents in the Class AA Allegheny Conference.

Now, due to the PIAA's biennial realignment, Skiba finds himself in the same situation, as Apollo-Ridge has been assigned to the Class A Eastern Conference.

“I don't have any idea about many of the new teams we'll be playing,” Skiba said. “I wish I knew more about Springdale and North Catholic. I have a couple of assistants that have seen Avonworth and Northgate play.”

The Vikings won two games in Skiba's debut season last year, but Skiba is putting a program in place down to the seventh grade that he hopes flourishes in the future.

“It's a big learning experience for everybody, but the kids are climbing on board,” Skiba said.

One of the problems last season was an early season injury to quarterback Josh Zelonka. That forced Skiba to use Anthony Bozzarelli mainly because he was one of the best athletes on the team.

Eventually, Zack Long settled in at quarterback and passed for 515 yards, and Bozzarelli went back to receiver.

Now, Skiba is trying out three players at quarterback, hoping to avoid a similar situation.

Junior Jesse Zelonka, Josh's younger brother, Tre Tipton, better known as the Vikings basketball point guard, and Damon Blystone are in the running to be under center.

“We've not settled on anyone, but they're three kids I'm comfortable with,” Skiba said.

Whoever wins the quarterback derby will guide a Pro-I offense with capabilities of rolling out.

Apollo-Ridge will go with speed in the backfield with Ben Gembella and Lonny Wells filling the roles at fullback and halfback, along with Dillon Tones and Jonah Casella, a player who could be effective coming out of the backfield.

If he's not the quarterback, Tipton could see action at wide receiver, along with Alex Smith.

Two key returning linemen will be Anthony Filler and Matt Thomas, two of six seniors on the team.

Apollo-Ridge has in camp 20 juniors and 16 sophomores, many of whom will see considerable playing time due to the small senior class.

Another situation the Vikings faced last year was opening the season with Indiana, one of the highest-scoring teams in Class AAA, then visiting Washington, one of the WPIAL's all-time winningest programs.

This year, the Vikings open with North Catholic at home, followed by a trip to Wilkinsburg in Week 2 for a game under portable lights at historic Graham Field.

“That's not an easy task — it's going to be tough,” Skiba said.

In an offseason move, defensive coordinator Dave Leasure took the head coaching job at Springdale and Bruce Yard has taken Leasure's spot.

Mark Duriancik and Dave Giunta have also been added to the staff.

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